Live At The House Of Tribes (Blue Note)
Released August 30, 2005
Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group 2006
Asia, Australia, Alaska, Canada, the Caribbean, South America, and North
Africa. Marsalis knows that the language of jazz is a lingua franca: when you
swing, play the blues, deliver the romantic mood of the ballad, or lay into
Latin rhythms, there is always a body of listeners ready to hear jazz as the
spiritual elixir that it is. None of the talking of any sort means as much to a
musician as the emotional force, the bond of soul and feeling, that gathers
heat in the air when sound and the need to be moved meet. Then the space of
performance and its circumstances are remade in the inimitable way we only
expect from the invisible art of music.
The quality of such occasions accounts for why Marsalis has been selling out clubs and concert halls throughout his career as a bandleader. The endless standing ovations, the packed dressing rooms of well wishers and autograph seekers, the many presents brought by listeners, the small army of students he has inspired or taught or given instruments, and the family dinners he has been invited to, all add up to encouragements to continue on his chosen task, which is to deliver the artistry and the feeling of jazz wherever and whenever he can.
The performance you hold in your hand is, as are all Marsalis recordings, a culmination of where he was at the time of documentation. It was captured at what is an almost annual winter performance at the House of Tribes on East Seventh Street in New York’s Lower East Side, a section of Manhattan where jazz, poetry, and theater have been presented in alternative situations for more than five decades. The performance space at the House of Tribes is very small but the sound is superb and the audience comes expecting to have its soul boiled in the hot oil of deep feeling. That audience is made up of all colors and is from all backgrounds and religions, a common feature of the Lower East Side. For all of their differences, the people who show have one thing in common: they love the propulsion of swing as it arrives in the sound of jazz. Theirs is a desire for the timeless quality of joy that the artistry of jazz packs into every second as the cold, formlessness of the moment is overcome by the heat of human personality and the refinement of empathetic interaction. Somebody could say they come looking for a groove, and somebody else could say that when Wynton Marsalis is at the House of Tribes, they get just what they are looking for–and as much of it as they can stand.
Those unaware of the variousness of Marsalis’s career might be surprised to find him playing in a low-income neighborhood for an audience of no more than fifty people. They would find that surprising because they know he is one of the biggest stars in the world of jazz and could command a substantial fee at any high style room or concert hall in New York City. Such people would be unaware that Marsalis comes from a lower class community in New Orleans and has always been willing to support any organization that seeks to offer art to the people. In short, Marsalis has never been a doily afraid of the grease and the gravy on the table. He, like all great jazz musicians, is from the people and brings the message of the people, which is the fundamental good news of life. That is the optimism that defines the struggle at the center of the blues, the universal desire to meet dreams in the temporary forms of flesh and blood, or to present the sorrows and revelations of life as one has known them.
Of the House of
Tribes, Marsalis says, “It’s a small community space where they can have
theater. It has the type of feeling that those places have in the South. It is
a grass roots situation. The people –Kwame Adansi-Bona, Orlando Rodriguez, and
Dominique Bachemin–are devoted to keeping the community in touch with art. You
can feel the dedication in the air. These kinds of places are all over the
world and they exist for the same reason. People make them happen, regardless
of money or attention or any of the things that we are often told you have to
have in order to do something. For me, playing at the House of Tribes is like
being at home, back in that environment of pure dedication, the kind of feeling
that makes you want to become an artist.
The audience at The House of Tribes is of all ages but that audience has that thing in common that is always true of jazz audiences. They come to hear people play and they come to swing and have a good time. You can hear it in their responses, which are not clichéd imitations of people having a good time. Oh, no, this is the sound of an actual good time, which makes you want to play more and play better. The audience can always give you that.
Though you were
not there, you can now experience, over and over, first class contemporary jazz
deep in the blue pocket of swing and full of the creations one expects of its
very best players. Greg Osby says that Marsalis is the most original and
comprehensive trumpet player to arrive in jazz since Woody Shaw, and Shaw
himself revealed his accurate sense of the future in something he told Maxine
Gordon about the younger trumpeter. While they were listening to him in
concert, Shaw said that he was absolutely sure that Marsalis was destined not
only to take the trumpet to new heights, but that he would elevate the making
and presentation of jazz music as well. Given all that Marsalis has achieved on
every plain, that has proven to be true. But this recording is not about the
breadth of Marsalis, it is about nothing other than playing jazz. In that
context, Marsaliss extraordinary sophistication continues to deepen the power
of his art while delivering it with the greatest command of his instrument
since Dizzy Gillespie and Booker Little. Green Chimneys and Donna Lee should
convert any doubters.
The heat, sweep, scale and substance of Marsaliss thematic inventions reiterate, at almost every captured moment, that he is, as Betty Carter once said of him, the destiny of the music. The music needed him. He had to appear. And he did.
Wess Anderson, as made clear on Green Chimneys, is a startlingly original master of the alto. His other equally original features prove him the kind of improvisor we hear very little of at this time of academic school boys playing memorized patterns. Though a young man, Anderson is the best version of old school: He is a genuine melody maker of the first order, heavy in his harmony, and glowing in his rhythm. Above all, as Marsalis say, Wess has heavy soul. It goes deep but it’s also buoyant, and he loves to swing all night. He and I have invaded jam sessions all over the world. Wess Anderson is always ready to play and spread that good feeling. Thats why musicians and listeners love him.
Green Chimneys also reiterates the fact that Eric Lewis, following Kenny Kirkland, Marcus Roberts and Eric Reed, is another of the fantastic piano players that Marsalis has introduced to the jazz world. Lewis is possessed of a talent that expresses itself free of the Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner methods that have become perhaps too common among the less imaginative of the younger piano players. (Also notice how well Anderson and Lewis sustain the ideas that Marsalis sets up on each song, which creates overall thematic order of another level.) Kengo Nakamura and Joe Farnsworth are two of the most prominent rhythm section players of the day. They have control of their instruments, which means they never play too loud and throw off the balance of the band. They know how to listen, support, and drive. They are top of the line professionals with artistic sensibilities. The same can be said of guest percussionist Orlando Rodriguez.
When you put that all together, you get everything a jazz lover needs: swing, melodic invention, harmonic surprise, rhythmic freshness, and a collective sense of improvising impassioned and logical music on the wing, surely the great performance gift that jazz has brought to Western music. Enjoy this indelible hot scoop of soul. It was made amongst the people, and for the people, which means that the music had you in mind, too.
1. Green Chimneys (Thelonious Monk) 15:49
2. Just Friends (John Klenner / Sam M. Lewis) 17:48
3. You Don’t Know What Love Is 12:13
4. Donna Lee (Charlie Parker) 6:47
5. What Is This Thing Called Love? (Cole Porter) 10:27
6. Second Line (Paul Barbarin) 3:55
Wessell “Warmdaddy” Anderson: alto saxophone
Eric Lewis: piano
Kengo Nakamura: bass
Joe Farnsworth: drums
Robert Rucker: tambourine (6)
Orlando Q. Rodriguez: percussion (1, 2, 5, 6)
Recorded live December 15, 2002, at the House of Tribes & World Alert Music, NYC
Produced by Delfeayo Marsalis
Production Coordinators: Isobel Allen-Floyd & Genevieve Stewart
Goiicert Producers: Kwame Adansi-Bona & Dominique F. Bachemin
Recorded & Mixed by Jeff Jones
Assistant Recording Engineers: Chuck Fertal & Reggie Pittman
Mix Engineers: Patrick Smith & Daryl Dickerson
Mastered by Ron McMaster
Music Copyist: Jonathan Kelly
In-house Counsel: The Real Rilla (John Miller)
Wynton Marsalis’ dominance seems at times so complete that it’s easy to either become suspicious of the musician represented by the vita sheet, or take it as a given that he’s the world’s greatest trumpet player, if not music-maker. Live at the House of Tribes offers little conclusive evidence for either position, but it certainly makes the case for a non-controversial middle ground.
The program appears designed to appeal to a wide audience within the liberal spectrum of mainstream modern jazz. The opening selection, Monk’s rarely heard “Green Chimneys,” is a riff-driven, primarily single-chord piece introduced over an infectious boogaloo street beat—an ideal vehicle, in other words, for introducing the musical personalities of the band. “Just Friends” is taken at an uncharacteristically laid-back tempo, with Latin percussion and heavy emphasis on the off-beats. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “Donna Lee” are the two least compromising performances on the date, the latter conjuring up the ghosts of Bird, Diz, and 52nd Street halcyon days. “What Is This Thing Called Love,” normally a bebop staple, returns to the accessible rhythmic feel of “Just Friends,” and the closer, “2nd Line,” is an elemental New Orleans blues march that’s obviously a crowd-pleaser. Listening to Marsalis on this occasion, I couldn’t help but notice no small amount of Clark Terry’s influence on his playing. Like Terry, he alternates between a classically pure sound and occasional vocal effects, and he’s continually playful and engaging, teasing his audience with minimal virtuosity before cutting loose. If his playing lacks passion and drama, it more than compensates with consummate technical command and undeniable flare.
Although producer Delfeayo Marsalis seems to have had microphones placed at select tables to convince us that the audience was eating up every note, he’s otherwise to be commended for the audio quality of the recording. The sound has depth and natural presence, without the annoying boosting of the bass that’s endemic on recording sessions these days. The other musicians on the date—especially alto saxophonist Wessell Anderson—manage to impress while attending to their supportive roles. Overall, a solid entry by Mr. Marsalis and a spirited musical party by his ensemble.
Samuel Chell (AllAboutJazz)