Ellis Marsalis – A New Orleans Christmas Carol

Ellis Marsalis

A New Orleans Christmas Carol

ELM Records CD

On his latest CD release, the Marsalis’s pater familias, pianist Ellis Marsalis, shares a selection of holiday favorites. Those looking for New Orleans jazz in the ‘early jazz,’ rather than geographical, sense of the term may be surprised by the idiom here, which is certainly neotraditional and straight ahead, but by no means a retrospective of historical styles. At seventy-seven years of age, Marsalis’s  pianism remains compelling, with eminently tasteful voicings and economical soloing that embellishes this program of holiday songs while keeping their memorable melodies front and center.  His ballad playing is particularly affecting on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which is filled with lovely chordal shadings.

His youngest son, percussionist Jason Marsalis, is certainly an asset at the drum kit, lending latin-tinged syncopation to “We Three Kings” and buoyancy to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman;”  He and Roman Skakun share vibraphone duties. Both bassists, Bill Huntington and Peter Harris, provide staunch support as well. Only the two vocal cuts, “A Child is Born,” sung by Cynthia Liggins Thomas, and “Christmas Joy” Johnaye Kendrick, underwhelm; the fault lies in the leaden singing, not the perfectly fine accompaniments. Program these two out of the playlist, and you have a rewarding collection of familiar and genteelly rendered holiday classics.

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