Jason Marsalis Quintet | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jason Marsalis Quintet 

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Yes, there's another one, but he's the end of the line: drummer Jason Marsalis, younger brother of Wynton and Branford, has no siblings bearing down on him from behind. And even if he did, I doubt they could catch him. Since high school Jason's been showing up on the occasional recording, usually behind one of his brothers, with whom he shares a penchant for detail inherited from pianist and patriarch Ellis. Yet only Branford shares the spark of innovation--the ability to look forward as well as backward--that Jason has exhibited both on disc and in his handful of Chicago appearances. Like the rest of the family Jason frequently pays homage to his roots: he opens his debut album, The Year of the Drummer (Basin Street), with a solo drum piece called "In the Tradition" that's based on not one but three street-parade rhythms of his native New Orleans. But rather than segue cleanly, one morphs into the other; Jason builds the whole on an implied foundation of modern swing and in less than two minutes creates something a lot livelier than Wynton's recaps of Crescent City jazz culture. As Jason writes in the liner notes, "These layers of drums are in the tradition but not in a way you would expect," and throughout the album his compositions derive from intriguing rhythmic patterns without turning into music-geek puzzles. He also has more than a passing interest in "the Spanish tinge" that Jelly Roll Morton posited as essential to the music; several tracks from this album bear this out, as does the entire repertoire of Jason's other project, the sextet Los Hombres Calientes (their smart eponymously titled album is also on Basin Street). His group at Ravinia is the same bright quintet on The Year of the Drummer, with standouts Antonio Gambrell on trumpet and Jonathon Lefcoski on piano. They'll perform as part of the "Rising Stars of Jazz" series. Wednesday, 8 PM, Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Michael Jackson.

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