an immensely likable record

Loved Ones (Columbia)
Ellis & Branford Marsalis

By Allen Howie

This father/son project isn't the first time Ellis Marsalis, the patriarch of the gifted New Orleans musical family, has recorded with one of his sons -- he teamed up with Wynton as early as the trumpeter's The Resolution of Romance in the 1980s. But Loved Ones, an affectionate tribute to the ladies and to some well-known compositions inspired by them, is an almost perfectly realized attempt to join with eldest son Branford in updating a handful of classics inspired by women. Straddling jazz, blues and the popular song, and clocking in at more than 75 minutes, it's a generous display of taste and technique.

The style of each performance is inspired by the personality of the lady for whom a particular tune is named. So while Leonard Bernstein's "Maria" from "West Side Story" receives a lush, sentimental treatment, "Lulu's Back in Town" is a wily stroll, with Ellis teasing a jaunty bass line from the ivories just long enough to bring a smile.

Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets" is one of the album's highlights, a study in understated elegance and restraint that captures the melancholy mood of the song without being mawkish. Duke Ellington's "Angelica" gives Branford a chance to explore a nice rhythmic variation or two, with dad tagging happily along.

The production (by another son, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis) is warm and pristine, letting both the beauty and the playfulness of the performances come to the fore. Combined with intelligent song selection and some superb playing by both men, it makes Loved Ones an immensely likable record, a fitting tip of the hat to some of the most gifted writers ever to embrace popular music.