Marsalis Music

When pianist Harry Connick Jr. met saxophonist Branford Marsalis in March in Durham, N.C., for a one-on-one recording session, they didn't spend the weekend doing what you might think: celebrating their New Orleans roots and playing tunes charged with vibrant themes, funk beats and an air of spontaneity.

There is a hint of that on "Occasion," tunes that exude a casual charm, such as "Spot," with its piano flourishes, darting soprano sax lines and surprising tempo shifts. "Good to Be Home," the album's jaunty blues coda, nearly rises to the same level, with its chummy camaraderie. But more often the performances are low-key and measured. Certainly anyone looking for a spirited Crescent City-inspired tete-a-tete should look elsewhere.

Connick contributed all the pieces here save for two. Among his compositions are a pair of ballads -- "I Like Love More" and "All Things" -- that were part of his score for the Tony-nominated musical "Thou Shalt Not." They surface midway through the recording, one after the other, creating a minor-key, bittersweet, at times almost Sondheimlike interlude. The mood is later echoed, in varying degrees, by Connick's noirish meditation "Win" and Marsalis's elegiac tone poem "Steve Lacy," dedicated to the great reedman and composer who died last year.

It's impossible to listen to parts of "Occasion" without wondering if the music would have pleased a record label that wasn't run by one of the artists involved. Not because it doesn't reward close scrutiny; Connick and Marsalis often communicate with subtlety and wit. It's just that the album's subdued tone isn't likely to draw much attention or airplay.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Sunday at the Kennedy Center.

Harry Connick Jr.