Ellis Marsalis: The Surrey With the Fringe On Top


Surrey with the Fringe on Top


Ellis Marsalis (piano)


Heart of Gold (Columbia 47509)

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Ellis Marsalis (piano), Ray Brown (bass), Billy Higgins (drums).

Composed by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II


Recorded: Burbank, CA, February 1991


Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

It usually happens the other way around. Think Dave Brubeck and his sons Dan and Chris, or John Coltrane and Ravi. In the case of Ellis Marsalis, recording dates and overall recognition outside of New Orleans were hard to come by until the success of his sons Wynton and Branford. Heart of Gold was Ellis's first of several releases for Columbia in the '90's, after a similar trio date for Blue Note a year earlier. It presented a straight ahead pianist with apparent influences ranging from Oscar Peterson and Nat Cole to Wynton Kelly and Tommy Flanagan, with little if any indication of his New Orleans roots. A swinging, thoughtful, and lucid lyricism pervades his playing.

"Surrey with the Fringe on Top," from Heart of Gold, finds Marsalis elucidating the familiar melody with a gentle, lilting touch, and at a leisurely pace that continues for his ensuing solo. His improvisation contains some sliding runs, occasional bluesy inflections, and mainly a series of neatly delineated, distinctly separated single note lines. Some of his voicings are clearly derived from Peterson, while his lightly floating sound comes more from Kelly or Flanagan. Brown's bass solo is, as usual, the resonant aural equivalent of a concise and enthralling short story. Marsalis returns for an adamant two-handed chordal interlude that eventually gives way to Higgins' tersely communicative drum break. The reprise swings blithely, and the prearranged piano-bass ending is cleverly conceived and adroitly executed.

Reviewer: Scott Albin

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