Jazz in NYC: Santi Debriano at Smalls, Jason Marsalis at the Jazz Standard

As mentioned in an earlier post, I had the chance to hear some world-class jazz during my trip to NYC in January. I always try to make the most of my too-rare visits there, so I made a point of hitting three top-rank shows.

I caught trumpeter/flugelhornist Tom Harrell‘s quintet at the Vanguard (I reviewed for Relix/jambands.com), and groups led by bassist Santi Debriano at Smalls, and vibraphonist Jason Marsalis at the Jazz Standard. Meant to put together a few thoughts about the Smalls and Jazz Standard shows shows a while back, but …


NYC Jan 2018 Santi Debriano at Smalls

On Jan. 20 at Smalls in the West Village, still one of Manhattan’s most intimate and most affordable jazz venues, the Panamanian-born bassist led a group with two other journeyman jazzers — tenor saxophonist Craig Handy and pianist Bill O’Connell — and Living Colour’s Will Calhoun (playing a small Canopus drumset).

The quartet, for its first set that Saturday night, played mostly originals, starting with “Ripty Moon,” built on a bluesy bass groove; Debriano capped his solo with flamenco-style hard strums, flourishes atypical in jazz. “Natural Causes,” the title track from a recent Debriano album, began with unison and harmony bass/sax lines, opened up for a ballad section and featured a bass solo incorporating bowed figures.

“Lexi’s Song,” a medium-tempo piece penned by Handy, offered a pretty melody; Handy, for his solo, deployed a series of octave jumps, and Calhoun was featured on a trading-8s section. The group closed with an inspired, swinging take on the standard “My One and Only Love.”

With its members drawing from various shades of jazz, Latin music, and even rock (Calhoun), Debriano’s band is a highly interactive, creative unit. They make a great vehicle for the bassist’s compositions; he said he’s hoping to record with this quartet soon.

Side note: Santi Debriano probably doesn’t recall borrowing my bass for his performance, years ago, at the Child of the Sun Jazz Festival at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. My group played the now-defunct fest earlier in the day, and he decided he’d rather use my upright than the one that FSC had made available to him.


NYC Jan 2018 Jason Marsalis at Jazz Standard

Five days earlier, on a chilly night at the Jazz Standard on 27th Street, vibraphonist Jason Marsalis played a one-night stand with his 21st Century Trad Band in support of the recently released Melody Reimagined: book 1. (I reviewed the album, released on the New Orleans label Basin Street Records, for JazzTimes).

I’ve seen the youngest of the Marsalis jazz-playing siblings many times over the years, in New Orleans, New York, and Tampa. But he was always behind a drum kit, playing in a variety of settings, including piano trios variously led by his father, Ellis Marsalis and Marcus Roberts, the jazz-funk group John Ellis and Doublewide, and Los Hombres Calientes, his Latin jazz collaboration with percussionist Bill Summers and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield.

As a vibraphonist, Marsalis is assured, using his chops and a seemingly intuitive feel to carve out a voice on the instrument that seems distinct from his predecessors and influences.

Joined by bassist Will Goble and drummer David Potter — both heard on the new release — and pianist Stephen Gordon, Marsalis showcased a good sampling of the disc’s music, which is centered on the concept of creating new melodies over familiar chord changes.

NYC Jan 2018 jazz standard

The quartet opened with the disc’s first two three tracks:  “Ratio Man Strikes Again” (inspired by Coltrane’s “Traneing In”), begun with a tricky vibes line over stop-start rhythms; the stately “Off the Rails” (“You’ve Stepped Out of a Dream”) and “Just as Cool as the Other Side of the Pillow,” built on the “Willow Weep for Me” changes and endowed with a title borrowed from a catch phrase of late ESPN announcer Stuart Scott.

The retro-fired, graceful ballad “80” (“The Very Thought of You”) was originally written in honor of Ellis, who plays on the album, but took on greater meaning with the passing last July of Marsalis matriarch Dolores, as Jason explained.

The set, the first of two that night, also included the standard “You and the Night and the Music,” featuring some fruitful 4s-trading with Potter; a lush ballad, “A Boy Named Charlie Brown”; and the classically influenced “Ballet Class,” from Marsalis’s 2013 album “In a World of Mallets.”

Looking forward to what compositions Marsalis devises for book 2, if/when he follows the first installment with a sequel.




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