BY MICHAEL TOLAND
The fourth album from the youngest Marsalis brother, In a World of Mallets is also his second in which he wields the vibes, instead sitting behind the drum kit with which he made his name. Despite his quartet’s name, the group does not consist of nothing but vibists – Austin Johnson, Will Goble and Dave Potter hold down piano, bass and drums, respectively, dissipating the promise of an all-vibraphone quartet. Still, the trio gives Marsalis sensitive accompaniment, almost to the point of deference – the leader’s instrument dominates every track. Nothing wrong with that, given that his name leads, but sometimes it would have been nice to hear more give-and-take with his bandmates – Potter is really the only one pushing Marsalis forward.
Fortunately, the mallethead is good at his job, as comfortable with the rippling melody of “Blues For the 29%ers” and the swing of “Ill Bill” as with the playfulness of “Ballet Class” and the candlelight glow of “Characters.” The most intriguing tracks, however, are the short cuts by the pseudonymous Discipline Ensemble – Hermeto Pascoal’s “Nenhum Talvez,” vibraphone king Bobby Hutcherson’s “My Joy” and the originals “Discipline Discovers a World of Mallets” and “Discipline Gets Lost in a World of Mallets,” find Marsalis overdubbing himself on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel and tubular bells for a whimsical quartet of tunes that border on avant garde.
With the exception of Lionel Hampton, jazz vibists tend to be out of the spotlight, well-respected but not in the mainstream of jazz. In a World of Mallets probably won’t push Marsalis into Hampton-levels of popularity, but it does assert the instrument’s place in the music’s wide spectrum.
DOWNLOAD: “Ballet Class,” “Discipline Discovers a World of Mallets,” “My Joy”