Delfeayo Marsalis – Pontius Pilate’s Decision (1992)

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The year’s best Marsalis record wasn’t from Wynton, Leno’s then-sidekick or Pops. Instead, it was this debut album from pianist Ellis’ fourth son Delfeayo Marsalis, the bone player and now-famous jazz producer. Delfeayo’s first stint on the other side of the mixing board is stirring and intriguingly offbeat, a near-perfect blend of the pillow-case smooth Wynton and the angular, explorative Branford.

This could be fairly attributed to upbringing, but a closer look at the liner notes for Pontius Pilate’s Decision reveals something mind-blowing: A sort of 1990s Metronome All-Stars drop by. Seems Delfeayo Marsalis invited everybody over to play. His brothers sit in, of course, But also Kenny Kirkland, Bob Hurst and Tain Watts (first Wynton, then Branford’s rhythm section), Marcus Roberts, Reginald Veal and Herlin Riley (who had just started playing with Wynton), Scotty Barnhart (who played trumpet on Roberts’ then-current release), and Wes Anderson (altoist in Wynton’s bands).

And that’s just the people we already knew back then. Two of the newcomers made instant impressions: Nat Turner on tenor and (incredibly) another Marsalis, drummer Jason — just 14 at the time of this session. Even then, the younger Marsalis moved from swinging to swanging (if you know what I mean) at will.

Marcus Roberts, as usual, is sheer delight. Pay strict attention to his superlative asides on “The Weary Ways of Mary Magdalene.” He goes from anvil-tapping to ivory-tinkling with frisky abandon. All the while, Delfeayo Marsalis’ trombone is, in many ways, more articulate than his famous sibling’s trumpet — simply because it’s so nimble. Marsalis’ solos are, by turns, baffling and ingratiating — all with one tube slide.

Don’t be scared off by the Biblical themes that Delfeayo Marsalis dances around on Pontius Pilate’s Decision. This is, to me, the story of a more earthly passion — what Duke Ellington once called “the world’s greatest duet, a man and a woman.” And, I guess, a man and his horn.

And a father and his sons. Just how many terrific musicians can one guy sire?

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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