The Marsalis Family A Jazz Celebration Review

Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Pianist Ellis Marsalis celebrates his retirement with the help of Wynton, Branford,...

Nick Reynolds 2003

A family get together to play some music. All the brothers and their father are skilled jazz players. Probably the most interesting is the brother who plays the sax. He seems both the most fluent and the most searching, and his composition "Cain and Abel" is the most aggressive and spiky thing they play. The father composes most of the material; pleasant, cool midtempo post bop that sound like it comes from the late fifties. They also have a crack at some standards, and the trombonist has a pretty solo on "Sultry Serenade".

So far, so unremarkable. But this is not just any family. It's the Marsalis men, the most controversial band of brothers in jazz. If you've read this far, you probably have an opinion about them. You either see them as bright new stars and protectors of the music's heritage or, particularly in the case of Wynton, as purveyors of a reactionary view of jazz that seeks to rewrite its history in rather narrow minded way.

But you have to see this album for what it is: a relaxed, blowing session, a live concert to mark Ellis Marsalis' retirement from teaching. Everyone sounds like they're enjoying themselves, and celebrating their father.

But their limitations are shown on the version of "St James Infirmary", one of the most covered pieces in jazz and blues. It's a deeply bleak, sad, and relevant song. But guest star Harry Connick Jr sings it and throws it away as a party piece, with Wynton growling away on a rather intrusive muted trumpet. You find yourself thinking "I know you're just having fun... but is this what this song's really about? Isn't this approach trivialising it just a little?"

There's nothing jazz fans like better than a good argument. And this album is not going to settle any. If you're looking for innovation, you're not going to find it here. A perfectly pleasant listen then, but after afew spins, this CD starts to sound less like a celebration than a boring (and just a little smug) family get together...

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