Arts album review

Marsalis unpolished

Trombonist-composer’s first-ever live album captures the rawness of a wonderful night

Delfeayo Marsalis
Troubadour Jass Records
Released Sept. 29, 2017

My finger hovers over the play button; going into Kalamazoo — the first-ever live album from trombonist-composer Delfeayo Marsalis — I don’t know what to expect. But from the first note, I know that what I’m hearing is special.

The album begins with an instrumental version of “Tin Roof Blues,” a jazz standard animated by Marsalis’s trombone. It’s a crowd-friendly warm-up; as Marsalis wanders in and around the original tune, he is met with both cheerful laughter and applause. I can picture myself in the concert venue, swaying to the beat, as the people in the recording must have done. It’s hard to sit still at music like this — Marsalis might be smiling into his mouthpiece.

The rest of Kalamazoo floats by on the same note of camaraderie. The album was recorded on a single night, during an April concert in Michigan where Marsalis played for the first time with a quartet consisting of bassist Reginald Veal, drummer Ralph Peterson, and his father, pianist Ellis Marsalis. It’s full of pleasant surprises, from original compositions (like the sixth track, “Secret Love Affair,”) to a blues rendition of the theme song from Sesame Street.

The spirit of the collection, in fact, is best explained with the eponymous track, “Blue Kalamazoo.” This song was completely improvised, with the help of Western Michigan University students: singer Christian O’Neill Diaz and drummer Madison George. Marsalis and his band met those two in the crowd before the concert and invited them onstage for the piece.

“Blue Kalamazoo” occurs at the climax of the album — listening to it, I can sense the congeniality of the atmosphere. Marsalis is as good with people as he is with his instrument. His happiness with music is infectious. He gets the crowd laughing by bantering with the guest musicians; O’Neill Diaz takes the hint and jokingly imitates the trombone at the end of the song.

In its conclusion, the album comes full circle with another classic, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” The song choice is fitting — Marsalis is a New Orleans native.

When the last chord wavers to an end, I’m smiling. Though the final song brought a calmer end to the album than expected, I still feel like dancing.