Blindfold Test: Jason Marsalis


“Often, the vibraphone can create this abstract, mellow mood,” says Marsalis, shown here with journalist Michael Jackson.

(Photo: Spike Jackson)

Drummer/vibraphonist Jason Marsalis, in town with the New Orleans Groovemasters, took time for a listening session and chinwag at Detroit Jazz Festival’s Carhartt Amphitheater on a rather rainy afternoon during Labor Day weekend 2022. The test, taken before an attentive audience under umbrellas, focused on vibraphone, presented in a variety of styles. This was Marsalis’ first Blindfold Test.

Stefon Harris

“Portrait Of Wellman Braud” (African Tarantella–Dances With Duke, Blue Note, 2006) Harris, vibraphone; Steve Turre, trombone; Derrick Hodge, bass; Xavier Davis piano; Anne Drummond, flute; Louise Dubin, cello; Terreon Gully, drums; Greg Tardy, clarinet.

The first thing I want to talk about related to this track, though it’s a bit of a tangent, is the role of my mother in the Marsalis family. There were a lot of musicians on my mother’s side, and one was a bassist by the name of Wellman Braud and the tune that you just heard was “Portrait Of Wellman Braud” from Duke Ellington’s New Orleans Suite. The recording that you are hearing is not Ellington but vibraphonist Stefon Harris from an album entitled African Tarantella. It’s great because it’s Ellington music but it’s got its own sound, not some replica of what Duke did back on a 1970 recording. Stefon is one of the most important players of the new generation, if you will. A great solo with a lot of blues and modern elements, great to hear it! 5 stars.

Bob Moses

“Glitteragbas Solo” (Bittersweet In The Ozone, Amulet Records, 1999, rec’d 1973) Moses, vibraphone and mallets.

Some overdubbing must have taken place because I hear vibraphone, but some glockenspiel, too. Xylophone, as well. It’s more of an avant garde approach in terms of the abstract harmony. Often, the vibraphone can create this abstract, mellow mood. It sounds like something from the ’60s/’70s, something Gary Burton would be familiar with. [afterwards] I wouldn’t have guessed Bob Moses, but that actually makes sense. I did a workshop at a school one time and the gentleman who was hosting the workshop before me was Bob Moses. His approach to music was almost from a different culture, and I loved it because I knew it was going to be completely different from my workshop. Two totally different perspectives about the drums that these students were going to get hip to. 4 stars.

Gary Burton

“Prelude For Vibes” (Next Generation, Concord Jazz, 2005) Burton, vibes; Julian Lage, guitar; Vadim Neselovskyi, piano; Luques Curtis, bass; James Williams, drums.

When the music first started I was thinking of the duets with Gary Burton and Chick Corea, and then the band joined in … and there was a group album called Like Minds (Concord, 1998). I’m going to go with Gary Burton because that’s the sound he is known for and has developed into. 4 stars. When Burton started in the ’60s, he was dealing with swing, standards and bebop tunes. Honestly, he wasn’t the hardest swinging player, per se, like a Milt Jackson. But there was so much facility, and the way he would play ballads with four mallets was unbelievable. In the ’70s he found a sound of his own, and the feeling of the music was different and technically incredible. He played a lot with pianist Makoto Ozone, and he created this whole scene around him, raising young players.

Tyler Blanton

“Good Ol’ Joel” (Botanic, Independent Release, 2010) Blanton, vibraphone; Joel Frahm, soprano saxophone; Dan Loomis, bass; Jared Schonig, drums.

Nice tune based on Charlie Parker chord changes — a modern take on that. I know from experience that playing the head like that with a horn player is not an easy thing to do, and I thought he did a pretty good job, even if some of the groove wasn’t as strong. It reminds me of a lot of vibraphonists out there. I enjoyed the performance. 4 stars.

Nicole Mitchell

“Today, Today” (Aquarius, Delmark, 2012) Mitchell, flute; Jason Adasiewicz, vibes; Joshua Abrams, bass; Frank Rosaly, drums.

I thought the tune and the form was an interesting approach. It’s more of an open feel, and sometimes that doesn’t groove as hard. There’s a way to keep things open and groove hard. I thought the accompaniment of the vibes and the overall approach was interesting, but I don’t recognize any of the players. [Hint: the players were all Chicago-based at the time of the recording.] There’s one guy in Chicago that made me think it might be him, Jason Adasiewicz. I’ll admit, I was never a big fan of his pedal. There were moments when it was down for a while here, where it did work a little better. It seemed like he was using it more effectively in this instance. 3 stars.

Xiomara Torres

“Tio” (La Voz Del Mar, Patois Records 2022). Xiomara Torres, vocals and guasa (short rain stick); Dan Neville, marimba; David Obregón, bass; Omar Julian Trujillo, trumpet; Miver Andres Mina Gruesco “Timba,” timbales, bombo; Rebecca Kleinmann, flute; Michel Obregón, Mayssy Cundumi Montaño, Paola Ponce, Jhon Edinson Garcia Sánchez, Ciara Medina Obregón, Ciro Silva, vocals; Carlos Latoche, trombone; Harlinson Lozano, saxophone.

[After abrupt ending of selection] That’s how it ends? I’m surprised that’s how it ended. Well first, that was a great track for sure. I was trying to identify the instrument, whether it was a marimba or a balafon. I think it was a marimba, but it reminded me of both when it started, something from Africa or Cuba.

Nonetheless, definitely a great performance, a five-star performance.

Tubby Hayes

“Who Can I Turn To?” (Commonwealth Blues, Art of Life, 2005, rec’d 1965) Hayes, vibraphone; Jeff Clyne, bass; Gordon Beck, piano; Johnny Butts, drums.

I was enjoying that. Definitely that ’50s/’60s bebop language. It reminded me of an Eddie Costa album called Guys And Dolls Like Vibes (1958), and the rhythm section was Bill Evans, Wendell Marshall on bass, Paul Motian on drums. Standard tunes, swinging out, such joy in the melody. It’s reminiscent; I’m trying to place the tune, a standard or an original. [afterwards] I know of Tubby Hayes as a saxophone player. The U.K. scene is not one, historically, I know much about, but I know there was a scene of players in the ’50s and ’60s. I’d definitely give that 5 stars.

Dave Pike

“Esteem Cleaning” (Bophead, Ubiquity, 1998) Pike, vibraphone; Anthony Wilson, guitar; Richard Simon, bass; Albert “Tootie” Heath, drums; Jane Getz, Milcho Leviev, piano.

I like the melody of that, and there’s definitely a belief when I’m hearing them play. I’m guessing it was recorded in the ’80s or ’90s. I dug the belief in the swing, and the groove was real strong and the melody was nice, especially everyone playing it in unison. The vibraphone was really fluid with playing the chord changes, the harmony and swinging out, so that was enjoyable. Dave Pike is one of those gentlemen that I haven’t checked out enough, but he’s somebody, along with Lem Winchester, that I’d like to investigate more. That was a 5-star performance. DB

The “Blindfold Test” is a listening test that challenges the featured artist to discuss and identify the music and musicians who performed on selected recordings. The artist is then asked to rate each tune using a 5-star system. No information is given to the artist prior to the test.

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