I've known people who couldn't get into jazz because of less-than-swell encounters with jazz snobs. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is the de facto king of American jazz snobbery, yet ironically his younger brother Jason helmed Music Update, a jazz album that's both creative and accessible. On vibraphone (a cousin to the xylophone and marimba), Jason has a light, crystalline tone and he never uses a deluge of notes when a precious few well-placed ones will do nicely. (In this manner he's reminiscent of the legendary Bay Area Latin jazz vibist Cal Tjader — minus the Latin orientation, that is.)
Update is thirteen tracks, all but three Jason Marsalis' own compositions, all models of succinctness, invention, wit, and swing. "Ballet Class" has a giddy, mock-elegant melody that's mad-catchy as a jingle. The tender, spacious, pensive ballad "Characters" will have you watching a film noir mystery with your mind's-eye. The laconic, bluesy "Western Ranch Vacation" slyly echoes the standard "Sweet Georgia Brown." Throughout Update there are tracks wherein Marsalis plays drums unaccompanied, interludes displaying the unique breadth and distinctiveness of New Orleans cadences. Unlike many drum solo displays, these magnetic gems crackle with (true) rhythms and are very nearly melodic. On some jazz albums the focal point is the leader; here, Jason Marsalis — backed by a combo of piano, acoustic bass, and drums, no "special guests" — lets the music itself take center stage.
Music Update (too bad about that Mr. Science-type cover art) is indeed a rarity, recommendable to both jazz fans and novices. (Elm Records)
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