I'm sure New Orleans has bred some bad horn players, but they must be keeping them close to home because the front line of the Delfeayo Marsalis Sextet that opened this year's jazz festival theatre series was a monster outfit.
Trombonist Marsalis and saxophonists Victor Goines and Mark Gross opened with Going Down to New Orleans by marching from the back of the hall to the stage as if playing in a second line. (Gross is technically from Baltimore, but he plays like a N'Awlins mavin.)
Whether paying tribute to "New Orleans homeboy Louis Armstrong" on What a Wonderful World, swinging like mad on It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing, or updating Duke Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder, Marsalis's band was superb.
The trombone is a staple of New Orleans' music, and Marsalis treats that role with respect, with musical skill, with verve and with wit.
Goines on tenor and Gross on alto (with both on soprano) are a formidable pair of saxophonists -- both are monster soloists, like the boss, and adept accompanists.
The rhythm section of pianist Fred Sanders, bassist David Pulpus and drummer Winard Harper was musically tight, yet maintained that loose feel that goes with Big Easy playing.
The band really cooked on a tune Marsalis recorded with the great drummer Elvin Jones, Brer Rabbit, a real workout, and its darker version, Brother Rabbit. Harper, an excellent drummer, captured the essence of the polyrhythmic Jones in his soloing.
Sweet Thunder and Half the Fun -- originally from the Duke Ellington suite Such Sweet Thunder, based on Shakespearean characters, and redone by Marsalis as an orchestra performance and CD called Sweet Thunder -- sounded as if the world's best-known playwright hailed from New Orleans-upon-Mississippi rather that Stratford-upon-Avon.
Marsalis has a beautiful, warm tone on his slide trombone, and can slur-r-r-r notes in the best Big Easy tradition. He commands the stage, while sharing the solo space with his crack band members.
The band closed its show as well with some second-line sounds, and a what may have been a good-natured poke at brother Wynton when Delfeayo remarked that trumpet players like to play loud, and in a high register, so he had Goines play a sopranino sax to approximate that "annoying" sound.
Delfeayo Marsalis Sextet
TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival
West End Cultural Centre
4 stars out of 5