patriarch of America’s First Family of Jazz enters a new frontier. A New
Orleans Christmas Carol (ELM Records, 2011) is the first jazz “LP” for
iTunes. This release by the National Endowment for the Arts jazz master is
available for iTune users as well as traditional CD players.
Marsalis is helped in this effort by son Jason Marasalis on drums,
percussion and vibraphone. Also appearing are bassists Bill Huntington and
Peter Harris, vocalists Cynthia Liggins Thomas and Johnaye Kendrick, and
vibist Roman Skakun. Most of the tracks are in trio with the Marsalises
and either bassist, but a few tracks are in quartet form, with one of the
vocalists or with Skakun.
A straightforward, solo piano take on “O Tannenbaum” precedes a lively
rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy.” Jason’s marching drum beat sets the
pace. A sweeping, 3 4 arrangement of “We Three Kings” doubles as a tribute
to fellow pianist McCoy Tyner. Jason’s rim shots punctuate the upbeat
melody of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” setting up for his dad’s
Marsalis’ only original song, “Christmas Joy,” is sung by Kendrick. The
rest of the set is a mix of spiritual and secular holiday treats,
including “O Holy Night,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Sleigh Ride” and “Greensleeves.”
A New Orleans Christmas revisits several songs the Marsalises did on Jazz
at Christmas in New Orleans. It’s dedicated to the memory of Leona Learson,
as well as Maraslis’ wife, Delores.
Ellis Marsalis is widely accepted as one of the most important jazz
musicians of the past 30 years. That distinction is not only for his own
music, but also the fact that several of his children are accomplished
jazz musicians: Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason, perhaps the best
known among them.