Ellis Marsalis: The Surrey With the Fringe On Top

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.

June 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Ahmad Jamal: The Surrey With the Fringe on Top

This may be one of the most perfect two minutes and thirty-five seconds in jazz! It’s surely a great example of a serious jazz trio at work. Jamal’s playing is exemplary for its economy and joyful expressiveness, and his cohorts seem totally in tune with his style. Crosby is one of the great unsung heroes of the bass, and Fournier’s light touch moves things right along throughout. It’s easy to hear why Miles Davis thought so much of this trio and gave this Broadway standard a whirl as well.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments


Miles Davis: Surrey with the Fringe on Top

       Miles Davis, artwork by Michael Symonds

With a new contract and limitless opportunities waiting for him at Columbia Records, Miles Davis cut four albums in two marathon sessions to honor his existing contract with Prestige. While the albums may have been hastily recorded, the results were nothing less than spectacular. Davis asserts himself as the ultimate melodist on “Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” demonstrating his astonishing ability to capture the essence of any theme and make it his own. His interpretation of the melody blends seamlessly into his spacious improvisation, during which his muted trumpet speaks with warmth and elegance and an ever-present casual coolness.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments


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