Leroy Marshall – New Spices (1998)

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NICK DERISO: When it comes to north Louisiana smooth jazz saxophonist Leroy Marshall, you expect a set that is, by turns, shot through with sweet soul ballads, great groovy moods and heaping helpings of delightful romanticism.

Consider it done.

The initial track on this pleasant 2006 overseas reissue, “Tupelo,” is very Grover Washington. And, really, there’s no better song to begin any album by Leroy, who’s made his name playing jazz so tasty that nine out of 10 dentists have trouble recommending it. (This is a good thing.)

Perhaps the set’s best song plays with that formula, however. It comes early on: “Can’t Stop” has an easy-going opener, yet it stays coiled because of terrific percussive work by Mark Lane Smith.

All a nice set up, really, for that moment when the singers join in, led impressively by Charlotte Johnson. Here, the song catches a strong head wind – sending Marshall, at one point, in the kind of explorations that recall Sonny Rollins. Rollins? A sax player chiefly famous for his very moody vibrato? One song into this CD and Marshall was already going places he’d only rarely been to.

“Can’t Stop,” by the way, does stop. It restarts, though, with Marshall effortlessly floating back into a lover-man mood. But keep your funky shoes on. Everybody starts swinging again – and there’s a fleet finish, like an exclamation point.

Each of these tracks was written by Marshall, and he’s got a great feel for love songs. “Passion” makes good on its title; “The Moment” has a quiet dignity that makes it a high point. Vocalist Jonathon Williams, featured on the very pretty “A Wonderful Life,” is a solid, if not terribly distinctive, singer. If you love Luther, you’ll like this.

Guitarist Carvel Avis, on the other hand, is the very personification of the agreeable variety that makes “New Spices” so easy to sit with. Check “Miya,” where in a single song he pulls in influences from Pat Metheny (very modern) to Wes Montgomery (very riff-y). Avis is a revelation, too, in “Bounce” – a tune with a feel familiar to fans of the great Louisiana funk band that Marshall leads, L.C. Smoove.

Then there’s the aptly titled “Blues in D Minor,” where Marshall pulls up a stool and gets smoky. I like his sense of pacing here, too. The song is, necessarily, an elongated thought. This is, after all, a blues. But nobody’s trudging through it. (And Avis again is a wonder: Listen for his B.B. King-ish musings, before Marshall comes charging back in at about the midway point.)

“Blues in D Minor” then works as a nice prologue for the fusion-inspired “Eclipse” that follows – a song with a sound straight out of the 1970s Columbia Records jazz bin. (This is also a good thing.) Straight-ahead fans can find a corner to grab on to, as well. “Say That” is so in the pocket, I was waiting for Cannonball Adderley to pump up the crowd when the song ended.

Like his fun Louisiana live performances, “New Spices” finds Marshall moving from muscular R&B grooves to that familiar, misty elegance so many have come to love. This is a terrific place to hear him put all of that together on one record.

Purchase: Leroy Marshall – New Spices

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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