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New Orleans Jazz Festival Tease Part Two: Galactic and Jason Marsalis

By BK

In the last issue, we checked out the latest releases by George Porter Jr., Steve Masakowski, Los Hombres Calientes and Nicholas Payton. Together, those musicians pretty much exemplified the breadth of the New Orleans’ musical experience. Here are a two more to add to the fold.

 

Galactic/Late for the Future(Capricorn, 2000)

In four short years, Galactic have risen from local legends to a national craze. Like there fellow funkmeisters (albeit a completely different brand of funk) Medeski, Martin and Wood, Galactic can attribute their rise to prominence to excessive touring and word of mouth promotion. Even in their hometown of New Orleans, where being a member of a talented funk band is a regular professional disposition, the boys of Galactic are veritable kings of the Crescent City. Their latest release, Late for the Future, continues with the Galactic patent of infectious rhythmic grooves on tunes like "Black Eye Pea" and "As Big As Your Face". The secret to this party ambiance is held by drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Robert Mercurio. In a live setting, these two will make any non-funk believer surrender to the feeling. The front-end solos are taken by keyboardist Richard Vogel, guitarist Jeff Raines and saxophonist Ben Ellman. Of course, Galactic would not be Galactic without the soulful vocals Theryl De’Clouet who gives the predominantly instrumental band some vocal life on songs like "Thrill", "Running Man" and "Century City". The best tracks on the album would be the ones that stray from the Galactic formula of "1970s Boogaloo New Orleans funk". The tune, "Baker’s Dozen", although tremendously groovy in nature, alludes to the brass band parades that are synonymous with New Orleans. "Jeffe 2000" and "Doublewide" features a country rock vibe that sounds a bit like Galactic’s brethren to the north, the North Mississippi All-Stars. "Hit the Wall" resembles the Jewish/Balkan sounds that saxophonist Ben Ellman used to play with the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. The common element amongst all these tunes? Take no prisoners funk. If you are looking a sedate atmosphere, then stay away from this release. If you want to party to you drop, then there is no better soundtrack.

 

Jason Marsalis/ Music in Motion (Basin Street Records, 2000)

New Orleans music is all about family. There are the Nevilles, the Batistes, and the Connicks, From generation to generation and family member to family member, the musicians of New Orleans is passed on like a tribal form of oral communication. Perhaps the best known family is Marsalis’ – Ellis, Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and drummer Jason. For Music in Motion, Jason follows in his father’s footsteps by never straying too far the jazz idiom. Like Marsalis’ previous record, The Year in the Drummer, Jason Marsalis puts a lot of thought and effort into every contributing tune - each song is a statement or a specific exercise. On "There’s a Thing Called Rhythm", all the members of the quintet (consisting of saxophonist John Ellis and Derek Douget, pianist Jonathan Lefcoski and bassist Peter Harris) play the rhythm (hence the song’s name). There are no extensive front-end solos from the saxophones – just a collective look at creating a sense of rhythm. The tune "Maracatu de Modernizar" is a Brazilian dance tune that alludes the diversity of sounds that arise from New Orleans while "Sleeper" and "On the First Occasion" has Marsalis calming the mood down with use of brushed rather than sticks. "The Steepistician" is a direct tribute to Marsalis saxophone playing brother, Branford while "Seven-Ay Pocky Way" is New Orleans second line groove at its best. All these songs together create one fine jazz album that is full of jazz tradition and exceptional musicianship. With Jason leading the way, jazz is far from dead in New Orleans.

Both Galactic and Jason Marsalis represent the young lions of the new Orleans Music scene. They are both incredibly talented and they both have an inherent sense of the music that came before them. At the same time, they are not scared to push ahead. Together, they represent the diversity of the New Orleans music scene. Either in a jazz club while enjoying a good Catfish dinner or slugging an Abita beer in a packed dance hall as the sun rises, these two groups of musicians will have fans deeply in a groove. Jason Marsalis will have you snapping your fingers while Galactic will have you shaking your rump. The choice is up to you. Either way, it will be good.