Thursday, January 7, 2010

Eddie Harris and Ellis Marsalis: Homecoming

ELM Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.7.10
Buy CD: Homecoming

Sometimes it takes a child to bring the parent into the light.

Ellis Marsalis, born in 1934, is regarded by many as the premier modern New Orleans jazz pianist ... although for a long time he wasn't well known outside that area. He began as a clarinetist, joined the Marines and, while stationed in Southern California, honed his skills on piano.

After his discharge, he returned to New Orleans, married and helped raise six sons, most of whom became well-known musicians. Two of them, Wynton and Bradford, had a lot to do with transforming their father into a nationally known star.

Ellis Marsalis met Chicago-born tenor sax artist Eddie Harris in the 1970s; they recorded the original Homecoming album in the mid-'80s. The record company disappeared shortly thereafter, as did the album. Almost 24 years later, at a concert in Toledo, Ohio, the pair agreed to record again; the original 42-minute Homecoming menu was expanded to 70 minutes by adding material recorded during the Toledo session.

The result is ... interesting. Marsalis' style was, and still is, more “traditional” than what Harris does. Marsalis' New Orleans roots are evident, and I find them more musical; Harris is “farther out.” At times, they clash. Even so, the result is pleasant, and reincarnating the original with some new material is worthwhile.

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