New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival 2008 Recordings

The Ellis Marsalis Quartet
An Open Letter to Thelonious (ELM Records)
Irvin Mayfield and Ellis Marsalis
Love Songs, Ballads and Standards (Basin Street)

By Martin Kasdan Jr.

It is difficult to imagine the modern jazz scene in New Orleans without pianist and patriarch Ellis Marsalis. He is well represented by two new releases this Jazzfest season, as a leader in a tribute to Thelonious Monk and as a co-leader with trumpeter Irvin Mayfield in an album of romantic music.

An Open Letter to Thelonious is on Marsalis' own ELM (for Ellis Louis Marsalis) Records, a label originally started back in 1974 and revived a few years ago. He is joined by his son Jason, who is the drummer and also the producer. Saxophonist Derek Douget and bassist Jason Stewart round out the quartet. The song selection includes well-known Monk pieces such as the romping "Straight, No Chaser" and "'Round Midnight" (played as a beautiful piano solo). Special treats are "Light Blue" and "Teo," because of the relatively infrequent versions by other artists. Each Marsalis contributed brief but incisive liner notes, with Ellis commenting on the time it took for him to appreciate the unique qualities of Monk's music. Jason observes that the rhythmic aspects of Monk's music have sometimes been overlooked and suggests that drummers will learn much from playing the rhythms of Monk's compositions. Indeed, the younger Marsalis takes several solos, each driven by the internal logic of the compositions. Ellis Marsalis and saxophonist Douget frequently double lines when stating the melodies, making for a rich and full sound. As a highly accomplished pianist, Ellis Marsalis is able to interpret the Monk canon with both respect and imagination, making for a rewarding album. For further information on this and prior recordings by Ellis Marsalis, go to www.EllisMarsalis.com. Jason Marsalis' site is www.JasonMarsalis.com.

Trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and his former teacher, pianist/icon Ellis Marsalis joined forces for the aptly titled Love Songs, Ballads and Standards. The settings range from quartet to orchestral; indeed, the Beatles' "Yesterday" opens the album in jazz group format and closes it in collaboration with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Between, the songs range from American Songbook standards such as Harold Arlen's "Come Rain or Shine" to jazz classics from Thelonious Monk ("'Round Midnight") and Duke Ellington ("In a Sentimental Mood") to more contemporary works by Jessie Harris ("Don't Know Why," popularized by Norah Jones). In short, Mayfield and Marsalis have created a recording of quiet beauty.Additional information is available at www.BasinStreetRecords.com.