The Marsalis brother they don’t much talk about is Jason. Wynton Marsalis, 51, once considered the savior of all jazz has gotten celebrity ink to the point that he trips my odious meter. Branford, 52, the sax-playing Marsalis, gained a huge fame boost in Sting’s band and later as leader of the Tonight Show band.
Jason Marsalis, 35, is a jazz drummer and an emerging vibraphonist. He is the youngest of the Marsalis family, an award-winning New Orleans–based jazz music dynasty that includes brothers Delfeayo (trombone), Ellis lll, and Mboya Kinyatta, who, aside from their mother, are the non-musicians in the family. Ellis Jr., the Marsalis family patriarch, is a jazz pianist and a music professor.
The Year of the Drummer, released in 1998, was Jason Marsalis’s debut recording. A good bit less mainstream than his more illustrious brothers, Jason specializes in the playing of polyrhythms and the use of overdubs to get his message across as a drummer. Not a thing wrong with that, by the way. It’s just that such experimentation can tend to shrink an available audience already made small by the diminishing numbers of jazz-heads each year. Jazz is, after all, an American art form in decline. Jason’s vibraphone playing is another thing entirely.
Ben Ratliff, the famous jazz critic for the New York Times, liked what he heard, and Down Beat magazine gave Jason’s debut 4.5 out of 5 stars. Not too shabby. But, that said, there is not a single note in jazz that has not been played yet, and fans know this as well as anyone. Like any other jazzer, Jason’s playing contains quotes from the masters such that the vibe side of his musical persona seems to want to approach a more mainstream jazz significance. Possibly this is the feature that Ratliff once found in a Jason Marsalis performance that inspired him to rate it “risky, without embarrassment.”
Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet: Anthology, Tuesday, August 28, 7:30 p.m. 619-595-0300. $10–$27.