Ellis Marsalis - A New Orleans Christmas Carol (2011)

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Ellis Marsalis
An expanded version of a 2002 Yuletide project, A New Orleans Christmas Carol impressively expands the original collaboration with Marsalis' son Jason (on drums and vibes), bassist Bill Huntington and vocalist Cynthia Liggins Thomas. The result is a tour-de-force for the often under-exposed patriarch of the Marsalis jazz family, and a seasonal record of sumptuous charm.

Marsalis deftly shifts from the elegiac “O Tannenbaum" (associated now forever, it seems, with Charlie Brown) to a funky second-line rendition of “Little Drummer Boy (featuring Jason, who also produced, at the traps) to the soaring McCoy Tyner-ish polyrhythms of “We Three Kings." The younger Marsalis switches to vibraphone for four cuts on A New Orleans Christmas Carol, including Guaraldi's “Christmas Time I Here" (speaking of Snoopy) and Mendelssohn's “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"; vibraphonist Roman Skakun is featured on four other tunes, including a lightly swinging West Coast-y rendition of “Greensleeves." The vocalist Thomas returns with “A Child Is Born," while Johnaye Kendrick handles the Marsalis original “Christmas Joy." Bassist Peter Harris joins the proceedings for a trio of cuts, topped by angular, propulsive rendition of “Sleigh Ride."

A New Orleans Christmas Carol, issued by ELM-Nu Jazz Entertainment, builds off a longtime local tradition at New Orleans' Mater Dolorosa Church in which the late Rev. David Albert Boileau would ask Ellis and Jason to perform, on piano and vibes, at the church services the Sunday before Christmas each year. The duo also regularly appears at the Christmas, New Orleans Style concert series at their hometown's St. Louis Cathedral.

These shows not only helped shape the sequencing of A New Orleans Christmas Carol, they cemented a musical bond with this music that's almost as strong as they won the Marsalis' share in life. You can hear the love on this one.

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