By Cameron Hughes
Delfeayo Marsalis & The Uptown Jazz Orchestra played a thrilling set at Birdland Thursday at 7:00 pm bringing the joyous sounds of the Big Easy to the Big Apple. Not only is this band talented, they’re freaking fun!
Founded in 2008, the mission of the Uptown Jazz Orchestra is to highlight the traditions of New Orleans jazz in high-level live performance, and in this they do NOT disappoint. It was like being at the best New Orleans party; energetic, playful, dexterously performed, and so much fun you can’t help but smile. Add to that the talented, engaging, amiable, and good-humored leader Delfeayo Marsalis and you’ve got an inspired night of great music.
Delfeayo Marsalis’ first album, Pontius Pilate’s Decision, was released in 1992. To date, Delfeayo has released eight albums as leader and many more with others and as sideman, not to mention the scores of albums he’s produced. Skilled and very much in demand, Marsalis is a joyful presence on the stage. Delfeayo Marsalis & The Uptown Jazz Orchestra may also be the most colorful band I’ve seen in a long time with musicians sporting vibrant African print shirts which added to the festive vibe of the evening.
The night got started with a truly inspired reading of Professor Longhair’s Go To The Mardi Gras with the band alternately blowing through the rafters and adding fun vocals.
To keep things moving, the funky baritone sax of Shaena Martin started off The Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s Snowball. Martin is just one of the many talented players in this excellent ensemble, and Snowball kept the energy and fun high.
The mood shifted as the evening went and the band covered more intricate jazz numbers and arrangements. They paid tribute to Charles Mingus (pioneering composer-bassist) with Marsalis’ original composition The Raid On The Mingus House Party, and later honored composer-pianist Thelonious Monk with ‘Round Midnight. Expertly played, numbers like these show the broad range and versatility of this band.
A highlight of ‘Round Midnight was the vocal contributions from Tonya Boyd-Cannon (she also sang on Jazz Party and Exactly Like You). Boyd-Cannon has an impeccable, powerful voice and added a great deal to the second half of the set. She sings with deep and seemingly effortless musicality with a sure, commanding presence and an obvious connection to the material.
Other highlights included the trumpet playing AND vocal stylings of John Gray and Andrew Baham. Also worth mentioning is the muscular and swinging tenor sax of Roderick Paulin, and the sure and steady piano contributions from college student Dylan Rowland during only his third gig with the band. Rowland’s playing was confident and elegant, and he added a nice steady swing to the rhythm section; this undergrad is going places! The dual trombone playing of the award-winning Delfeayo Marsalis and Terrance “Hollywood” Taplin was a special treat. Their harmonic interactions are smooth and intricate, and I’m impressed Marsalis doesn’t need to be the only trombone player on the stage. The soulful blend of these two was a highlight of the evening among many. Space doesn’t permit me to sing the praises of each of the 14 excellent musicians on the stage tonight, but to a person they’re gifted additions to the band.
I didn’t catch the name of the brief exiting number, but the band left on a high note with more inspired New Orleans funk leaving you wanting more.
It’s hard to imagine a band more joyful than this and my only regret is they didn’t play longer. I can wholeheartedly recommend Delfeayo Marsalis & The Uptown Jazz Orchestra. Someone described them as a real party band, and I couldn’t agree more. Add to that their depth on more traditional jazz charts and you have an evening with something for everyone.
Musicians: John Gray, trumpet & vocals; Scott Frock, trumpet; Andrew Baham, trumpet & vocals; Terrance “Hollywood” Taplin, trombone; Scott Johnson, tenor sax; Roderick Paulin, tenor sax; Khari Allen Lee, alto & soprano sax; Anthony Ware, alto sax; Shaena Martin, baritone sax; Dylan Rowland, piano; Alon Near, bass; Brian Richburg, drums; Tonya Boyd-Cannon, vocals; Delfeayo Marsalis, leader & trombone
Tonight’s Setlist Included:
Doing What We Gotta Do (Delfeayo Marsalis)
Delfeayo Marsalis & The Uptown Jazz Orchestra will perform at Birdland Saturday July 29 at 8:30 pm and 10:30 pm. Doors will open at 7:30 pm and 10:00 pm. Birdland is at 315 West 44th Street (between 8th & 9th Avenues), New York, NY 10036. (212) 581-3080
Tickets are $30-$40 and are available HERE.