"Live at the House of Tribes"
"Front & Center"
Unlike trumpeter Wynton Marsalis's many carefully considered recordings, "Live at the House of the Tribes" catches his ensemble on the fly. Informally taped at a 2002 Lower Manhattan club concert, cozy as can be, the six performances fully justify a public airing.
After all, not only is this recording typical in many ways of Marsalis's small group tours, it benefits from the spontaneous chemistry produced by musicians who are familiar to Marsalis followers (alto saxophonist Wessel "Warmdaddy" Anderson and pianist Eric Lewis) and not so familiar (bassist Kengo Nakamura and drummer Joe Farnsworth).
The quintet is occasionally augmented by a couple of guests, and the emphasis on bop era standards and vintage pop melodies clearly helps fuel the freewheeling spirit that often develops. On Thelonious Monk's "Green Chimneys," for instance, the theme is introduced amid squawks and clatter before inspiring a string of colorful, witty choruses, with the trumpeter brashly leading the way. Anderson and Lewis follow suit, displaying abundant imagination or energy. Throughout the album, the rhythm section playfully underscores the camaraderie onstage -- "Just Friends" seems a particularly apt choice here -- and there are numerous reminders of Marsalis's New Orleans roots, right down to the final track, the parade-strutting "2nd Line." In fact, given the incalculable tragedies Hurricane Katrina left in its wake, the joy conveyed during this spirited send-off is as welcome as it is emblematic.
Don't look for regional quirks and coloring, though, when Marsalis and Anderson recharge Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," horns blazing.
When French-born Frederic Yonnet plays jazz lines on harmonica, he does it the hard way, and yet ever so fluidly, on a diatonic model, the sort favored by blues players in search of thick chords, chugging rhythms and bent notes.
"Front & Center" finds Yonnet playing a lot more than jazz, though. He uses his harp to breathe gales of life into Stevie Wonder's "Boogie On Reggae Woman," the album's opening track, and then to soulfully explore the melodic contours of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?," albeit in a contemporary jazz setting. Long before he reaches the final cut, a live version of "Amazing Grace," his mastery of the small harp is as obvious as his versatility and crowd-pleasing appeal.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Saturday at the Silver Spring Jazz Festival.