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Jason Marsalis and the SFJAZZ Collective
Jason Marsalis at the Hamilton Theater (Sunday, October 14, 2012)
by Bridget Arnwine (Examiner.com)
Tell Jason Marsalis that he sounds great and be prepared to hear all the ways he thinks he can improve. Not in a whiny, tell me again how great I am sort of way, but in a way that demonstrates a genuine desire to bring forth the best that the music deserves.
Last Sunday night at the Hamilton Theater, Marsalis and his vibes quartet performed all original music with the exception of the Louis Armstrong composition “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You)” and Brian Coogan’s “The Nice Mailman’s Happy Song for Anna”. Marsalis’s dry wit filled the empty space that occurred where one song ended and the next one began and the members of his quartet looked on silently until it was time to play. And boy did they ever play.
Beginning the set with a song dedicated to antagonists of the blues, “Blues Can Be Abstract Too” was a fun “re-mix” of one of jazz’s essential elements. “Ballet Class,” a song Marsalis described as one that any artist from any genre could play, was said to be based on the rhythmic elements of classical music. The catchy tune was at some points reminiscent of a waltz (sounding at times like Shostakovich’s “Second Waltz” or Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” may have served as influences), or, as the title reflects, a ballet, creating a musical pattern that lent itself nicely to stirring visual images of what a dancer could create with this piece as a musical catalyst.
Marsalis didn’t just perform his own original music. Members of the band showcased their work too. “Ill Bill,” written by drummer Dave Potter, featured Potter tearing into the drums and showing himself a worthy accompanyist for a bandleader who is also celebrated for his work on the instrument. Pianist Austin Johnson, like the southerners he lives amongst, found his inspiration in a bottle of hot sauce. “Louisiana Gold” was equal parts flash and technique as the song sounded as though it were written to suit each musician’s strengths. Bassist Will Goble’s “Big Earl’s Last Ride” didn’t feature Marsalis as much of the other tunes, but that worked out just fine as the trio of capable musicians supported one another while carrying the composition someplace magical.
The quartet performed solidly throughout the night, but they saved their best performance for the last song of the night, “Closing Credits.” Marsalis’s performance on “Closing Credits” felt like a sneak peek into the mind of man who’s brain was immersed in a vat of jazz. He was connected and fully engaged in the process.
The song seemed to offer Marsalis the best opportunity to really play the vibes fully. Not just because of the speed and precision of his four mallet strikes and not because of the obvious skill and growth that was apparent in his playing. It’s because when you watched him play, it was easy to hear him deciding what kind of musician he wanted to be. More than that, you could hear that he’s up for the challenge. The big, theatrical elements in the song accurately depicted the climactic feel of the songs played during a blockbuster movie’s closing credits as Marsalis described and it was fun to hear him take on that kind of music on vibes.
It must also be said, particularly after raving about how fantastic a space the Atlas Performing Arts Center is, that the Hamilton is equally as impressive. Though two completely different spaces, the Atlas a Performing Arts Center and the Hamilton more in the vein of a supper club, the Hamilton was a beautiful space with good food (this vegetarian loved the seaweed salad) and a beautifully spacious stage. Thanks to the PR staff and the production crew for allowing me access to this fantastic venue.
Next up for jazz at the Hamilton, it’s a Marsalis affair as Jason’s older brother Delfeayo is set to perform with his group on November 28th. Stay tuned.