Ellis Marsalis: Ruminations in New York (2005)
This nice, rather than exciting, solo piano set pays tribute, consciously or not, to the late John Lewis's last campaign: on behalf of the Great American Songbook ballads which Lewis insisted were, with the blues, the foundation of jazz since the 1920s. Inspired no doubt by years creating his own melodic lines on Kern, Arlen & Co's tunes, Marsalis here produces several of his own on the old template, doing some classic things with them.
His opener has a nice tension between friskiness and the caressingly lyrical phrasing to which the number which follows is given over. Its development of inner voicings makes it sound like something Thad Jones wrote, but as in the majority of tunes here, there's a singable melody.
Stylistic interest lies in the eschewal of influences normally overworked and associated with such names as Evans, Jarrett, and Tyner. By way of innovation, Marsalis (b. 1934) avoids the danger of de rigueur mannered monotony; he deploys a deft left hand doing flexible swinging things better than they were done when the general style of this set's music was the latest thing.
Hear his support for the long Bud Powell-ish lines of "Haven's Paradise." "After" opens with a harmonisation surely indebted to Monk, but the ballad improvisation which follows isn't Monkish. "Tell Me" is more overt bop, an oblique take on "I Got Rhythm" with a very active bass line which walks and also sidesteps. "Orchid Blue" has a harmonic atmosphere from Gershwin or Ellington (Porgy meets Sophisticated Lady). "Happiness is the Thing" has a pacier opening, spring(ing) fresh, and a frisky ending. "When First We Met" so cries out for a lyric that it's delivered for the most part in a yet older ballad style, where the tune was modified without many alterations, but always tellingly, pretty well vocally.
When the attraction new players find in older bop has become a live topic, it's even nicer to hear a veteran play this music of pretty well his boyhood, relaxed even more than restrained, making a lovely sound on the piano and finally saying how good he feels in the encore-like "Zee Blues": a laughing walking bass all the way to the playful way he finds of ending.
This set was recorded two years back in New York. The insert notes are strictly a resumé of the pianist's resume, leaving little doubt about why he sounds so rejuvenated and relaxed in retirement after all those teaching jobs and routine gigs and raising all those sons.
Track Listing: 1.Things That You Never Were, 3.49, 2. A Moment Alone, 4:45; 3. Haven's Paradise, 4:06; 4. Homecoming, 4:42; 5. After, 4:25; 6. Tell Me, 3:34; 7. Somehow, 4:30; 8. Orchid Blue, 4:12; 9. Happiness is the Thing, 3:40; 10. Chapter One, 4:06; 11. When First We Met, 5:06; 12. Zee Blues, 2:14
Personnel: Ellis Marsalis, solo piano