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Small but Sweet

Trombonist trades large ensemble for sextet on tour

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Expect some Sweet Thunder and fireworks when Delfeayo Marsalis fronts his sextet as the concert series opener of this summer's jazz festival.

The New Orleans trombonist, producer and band leader (and third of the four musician brothers in the Marsalis family) is excited to be going on tour with a smaller band playing music from his 2010 CD Sweet Thunder, a reworking of Duke Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder suite based on Shakespearean characters and themes.

His June 18 performance at the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival will be the first with the smaller band; the debut Sweet Thunder performance was commissioned by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and the CD featured a large ensemble.

But Marsalis doesn't like to just repeat the music, "to do repertory."

"This is the better way. Scaling it down to a smaller ensemble gives you some latitude" to play the music differently, to improvise. Some tunes from Sweet can't be performed by the smaller group with only three horns: trombone and two saxophones (Victor Goines and Mark Gross). "You wouldn't get the same essence," he explains.

Marsalis says the concert also will include music from earlier recordings Minions Dominion and Pontius Pilate's Decision, his first recording as a leader.

The composer likes to take on big themes. As well as Sweet Thunder, Pontius Pilate's Decision covers "biblical themes that are important to me, so I said, 'Let's tackle that.'"

Although his sextet can't play all the music from an orchestral work, "I really hear the smaller group like a jazz orchestra," Marsalis said during a telephone interview from his New Orleans home.

And the trombonist is looking forward to the tour because it will be the first time he's been on the road with saxophonist Goines, a Big Easy jazz stalwart.

"He played his first gig with me in New Orleans 15 years ago," Marsalis says, and they have performed and recorded many times over the years, but this will be their first tour.

Marsalis, who studied studio production as well as trombone at Boston's Berklee College of Music, says he hasn't produced as much over the last four or five years. "I've spent that time playing regular shows in New Orleans. But playing in different ensembles aids production work," he says.

"The world is now more intrigued by entertainment value than artistic value," he says. "Miles and Trane could find work playing music that was difficult for the listener." When Branford, his saxophonist brother, and Wynton, his trumpet-playing brother, "hit the scene, you had to be in an adventurous mood. Now, performers have to be more engaged in entertainment value."

Nonetheless, "music keeps coming and guys keep swinging." Marsalis says.

He predicts this could be the year of the trombone. Trombone Shorty, the popular jazz-funk musician from New Orleans, is touring and recording to critical acclaim (he performs here June 21 with his band Orleans Avenue) and Wycliffe Gordon, who got his break playing with Wynton Marsalis, is releasing a new CD.

Marsalis also predicts "there'll be some fireworks" at his sextet's Winnipeg show.

The Delfeayo Marsalis Sextet opens the festival's theatre series shows June 18, 8 p.m., at West End Cultural Centre; tickets $38.

The TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival runs June 14-23 at various venues. The free opening weekend presents shows at Old Market Square June 14-17 and concerts and club shows run June 18-23.

Tickets are at, at the Jazz Winnipeg office or by phone at 989-4656. Tickets for Burton Cummings Theatre shows are also available at Ticketmaster.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 22, 2012 D3

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