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Jason Marsalis & The 21st Century Trad Band – Melody Reimagined: book 1

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The first in a series from the consummate vibraphonist exploring the possibilities of creating new compositions based off of the chord progressions from existing compositions

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Press for Melody Reimagined: Book 1

“This young, uber-talented quartet’s latest album of original jazz and other forms of music, including American songbook and a little nostalgic ‘80s pop, starts out with complex, uptempo syncopations that Marsalis does so well on vibes, then settles down into more of a sedate, mellow mood.” – Tom Henry, The Toledo Blade

“Marsalis, one of his generation’s most gifted drummers, continues to successfully focus on the vibraphone, playing in a loose-limbed if technically adroit style reminiscent of influences from Bobby Hutcherson to Milt Jackson and Lionel Hampton.” –Jazz Times

“Jason Marsalis, the New Orleans-born drummer, vibraphonist, composer and arranger, released another brilliant album along with his 21st Century Trad Band…On this album we hear Marsalis’ outstanding compositions and his versatility as a performer.” – Jamaal Baptiste, Black Grooves

“The quartet continues to raise its own bar with original music that’s complex without shying away from inherent quirks that give it a kind of accessible playfulness.” – Jennifer Odell, Downbeat Magazine

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Album Description

Jason Marsalis, the consummate drummer turned mallet-master, returns this January with Melody Reimagined: book 1 the first in a series that finds the New Orleans-born phenom in his element writing, producing, and arranging all original music that is deeply informed by not only the rich tradition of jazz, but a wide understanding and appreciation of music in general. The youngest member of and NEA Jazz Master with his musical family, Marsalis has proven his genius and dedication to the art form of jazz by first establishing himself as a world class drummer, and then completely reinventing himself as a master on the vibraphone and other mallet instruments in the mold of greats such as Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson. In fact, he has been selected as a featured artist to tour with the legendary Lionel Hampton Big Band to share the music of the legendary bandleader. An all-around musical polymath, it is a true treat to hear Marsalis perform a whistle-solo, or demonstrate his perfect pitch—he recently made his debut on vocals singing a low bass line on the Kermit Ruffins/Irvin Mayfield produced track “Don’t Worry Be Happy” in addition to providing vibraphone, marimba, whistle, woodblocks, shakers, snaps, claps, and chest drum.

Those familiar with Marsalis’ recent work such as 2014’s The 21st Century Trad Band and 2013’s In A World of Mallets (that hit #1 on JazzWeek radio charts) will recognize his solid band formerly dubbed The Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet, and now called The 21st Century Trad Band with Austin Johnson on piano, Will Goble on bass, and Dave Potter on drums—a group of young, dynamic players that bring a fresh perspective, but who can hang with the elite playing of Marsalis on vibraphone.

The concept of Melody Reimagined grew out of live performances where the band would play a mixture of originals and covers of jazz standards. Frequently, they’d put together spontaneous arrangements of the standards to keep things interesting. The practice of taking the harmonic structure, or chord progressions from one song and writing new melodies has been around throughout jazz history. For example, Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone” is based on the harmony from “Rose Room,” while Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology” is based on the harmony from “How High the Moon.” For this album, harmonies and chord changes from the American songbook, jazz standards, traditional jazz, and even 1980’s pop music inspire these new pieces. For example, “Passionate Dancer” draws from Michael Sambello’s #1 hit “Maniac” of Flashdance fame. Marsalis makes a mash-up of the structure of two classics—Horace Silver’s “Peace” and Charlie Haden’s “Silence” on “A Peaceful Silence.” And he excellently demonstrates how the inspirations of trad jazz found in much of the music of New Orleans can be used to make truly modern jazz, while also making a point about the misunderstandings of the city’s Mardi Gras celebration with “Bourbon Street Ain’t Mardi Gras.” Jason’s father, Ellis, and brother Delfeayo both make cameos on the beautiful ballad “80” based on the chord progression of “The Very Thought of You, a touching tribute to the memory of Jason’s mother.

Whether you’re a true scholar of jazz, or simply a casual listener, Melody Reimagined: book 1 offers something for you, as simply an enjoyable album of music, but also something you can spend hours studying and re-listening to catch all its nuance.

Liner Notes

Track List

  1. Ratio Man Strikes Again (6:02)
  2. Off The Rails (5:08)
  3. Just As Cool as the Other Side of the Pillow (9:38)
  4. Soot Sprites (4:42)
  5. A Peaceful Silence (5:52)
  6. Bourbon Street Ain’t Mardi Gras (6:29)
  7. Passionate Dancer (6:09)
  8. Never Forget the 23rd Letter (7:11)
  9. 80 (7:34)

Personnel

Jason Marsalis – Vibes

Austin Johnson – Piano

Will Goble – Bass

Dave Potter – Drums

Ellis Marsalis – Piano on track 9

Delfeayo Marsalis – Trombone on track 9

Track by Track Breakdown by Jason Marsalis

1. RATIO MAN STRIKES AGAIN

On this group’s last recording, The 21st Century Trad Band, we recorded our drummer Dave Potter’s original entitled “Ratio Man”.  As we were playing this tune live one of the nights our pianist Austin Johnson started to play this riff.  I started to play it with him and that riff starts off this composition.  “Ratio Man” is about Austin who is mostly quiet but knows when to say the right thing at the right time.  As I was writing this piece, I decided to use aspects of the bridge from “Ratio Man,” and it developed into the chord progression from John Coltrane’s tune “Traneing In.” Coltrane also used this progression on “Locomotion” from his Blue Trane album.  We made a few key changes to the chords to keep the listener on their toes and to give the musicians a challenge.

2. OFF THE RAILS

“You’ve Stepped out of a Dream” is a classic standard that musicians today often perform live.  On one of our performances, we started to play a dirge-like rhythm that matched the rhythm of the melody. Instead of keeping with the same often-covered melody, this quasi-arrangement was used to develop a new composition. With its unorthodox melody, off-kilter stop-time breaks for the drums, and oddly placed interlude during the piano solo, it’s title refers to the state of politics in the world, especially the U.S. of A.

3. JUST AS COOL AS THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PILLOW

Based on Ann Ronnell’s “Willow Weep for Me,” this evolved into a bass/vibes feature for the melody while the piano and drums plays at certain sections.  It serves as a way to break down the ensemble to give space to the music and listener.  It was around this time that sports anchor Stuart Scott passed away.  As a lead black anchor, he was a unique personality during the 1990s heyday of ESPN’s flagship sports news show “SportsCenter,” and was sorely missed by the sports community when he left us too soon.  Known for his hip-hop like catchphrases such as “Booyah!” and “Playa Hatin’,” this tune is named after a phrase he would use when describing a great scoring play.  We use the harmony and final riff from the theme song to “SportsCenter” in his memory.

4. SOOT SPRITES

Dave Potter came up with an arrangement of the Victor Feldman classic “Seven Steps to Heaven.”  It consisted of the folk rhythm from Puerto Rico, “plena,” a rhythm commonly heard used in the music of David Sanchez and Miguel Zenon.  This arrangement became the backbone of subsequent melodic and rhythmic ideas that would fuel a new piece.  As for the title, it’s a very unusual name association that I’ll try to spell out.  Seven Steps to Heaven – 7UP – Sprite – Soot Sprites (from the film My Neighbor Totoro).

5. A PEACEFUL SILENCE
Horace Silver and Charlie Haden were two important contributors to the music.  While they were both bandleaders in their own right, Silver made his first mark as the first musical director of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the mid-1950s while Haden made his as bassist with Ornette Coleman in the late 1950s.  Sadly, both musicians passed away close to one month apart.  In thinking of their contributions, two ballads, Silver’s “Peace” and Haden’s “Silence,” came together in my mind.  The melody switches places with the harmony as a variation of Haden’s “Silence” occurs on the chords from Silver’s “Peace” and vice versa.  This is what is referred to in modern day terms as a “mash-up.”

6. BOURBON STREET AIN’T MARDI GRAS
While the harmony comes from the classic New Orleans traditional jazz standard “Bourbon Street Parade,” the melody is influenced by artists such as Ornette Coleman, Lennie Tristano, and Lenny White (think of the tune “Sorceress”).  Compared to the standards from the American songbook, there’s a small amount of harmonies of traditional jazz tunes that have been used to create original melody lines today. The chord changes are very open and a musician doesn’t have to limit himself to playing traditional ideas. The title is about how the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans often is reduced to the decadence that occurs on Bourbon Street. The flaw with this idea is that Bourbon Street carries on like this all year, and Mardi Gras is a celebration connected to religion, as it is the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Ironically, the tune would be classified in a more modern jazz vein, a style which is wrongly not associated with New Orleans at all.

7. PASSIONATE DANCER
One may not expect chord changes from a pop song released in the 1980s to inspire a jazz tune.  However, when stumbling across Michael Sambello’s #1 hit “Maniac” from the film Flashdance, I noticed the chords for the first time after hearing it many times through the years and never realized how complex they were. Popular music has a lot to distract you with its music videos, beats, production, and lyrics to the point where it is easy to take the music for granted. Upon discovering the chord changes, I knew that an original was going to be written. The dancer is a reference to Jennifer Beals’ character in the movie, Alex Owens.

8. NEVER FORGET THE 23RD LETTER
“Avalon” is a tune I’ve played with traditional musicians in New Orleans. As I started to play it on my own set, it’s slowly but surely started changing and becoming something that wasn’t “Avalon” anymore.  While the root notes of the chords are the same, the quality of the chords are very different. G-7 becomes Gø, C7 turns into C7(#9), FMaj turns into F-7(b5), and there are many more changes. Because of these alterations, the chord changes may not be recognizable as “Avalon,” but the sound of the progression can be felt underneath the music. The title was inspired by the 2016 Presidential Election.

9. 80
“80” was initially inspired by my father’s 80th birthday. He would play a chord progression over the song “The Very Thought of You,” which he says he took from pianist Hank Jones, and it would inspire me to write a melody. My father was scheduled to record the song when about a month before the session, the sound of my brother Delfeayo playing the melody came to mind. He was then added to the recording. However, the dedication and meaning of the song changed when my mother, and Ellis’ wife of 58 years, Dolores Marsalis, passed away at age 80. I’m very grateful my father and brother were able to join me on this session since we’re all results of my mother’s legacy.

Credits

Producer: Jason Marsalis
Executive Producer: Mark Samuels

Recorded at Parlor Recording Studios in New Orleans, LA on Dec. 21, 2016. Additional Recording at Music Shed Studios and Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in New Orleans, LA.

Engineering: Nick Guttmann & Matt Grondin
Assistant: Mack Major
Additional Editing: Ben Lorio

Mastering: Mark Wilder at Battery Mastering in New York, NY

Jason Marsalis endorses Musser Vibraphones and Mike Balter Mallets.

Dave Potter endorses Mapex Drums, Sabian Cymbals, and Vic Firth Sticks.

Dedication

This recording is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Delores Ferdinand Marsalis, who left this earth on July 18th, 2017. She had amazing patience raising her sons Branford, Wynton, Ellis III, Delfeayo, Mboya, and myself. The importance to Dad’s life as well can’t be understated. Because of her, we are better men while she also impacted musicians from around the world. Thanks, Mom.

Thanks

My wife, Kaya, and daughters Marley, McKenzie, and Evangeline. Austin, Will, and Dave for recording the music. Jasen Weaver, Gerald T. Watkins Jr., Oscar Rossignoli (thanks for the interlude), and Stephen Gordon for playing the music in New Orleans. Susan Young for the artwork and for also confirming that “contrafact” is a terrible word to describe jazz tunes based on chord changes from other songs.

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