This volume in the Marsalis Music Honors Series is dedicated to new recordings by New Orleans clarinetist, composer and arranger Alvin Batiste (whom many of jazz fans know for his stints with Ray Charles, Cannonball Adderley, and the great Clarinet Summit band with the late John Carter, David Murray and Jimmy Hamilton). Produced by Branford Marsalis -- who appears on three cuts -- the core band is made up of Batiste, drummer Herlin Riley (he and Marsalis were students of Batiste's), and newcomers Lawrence Fields on piano and Ricardo Rodriguez on bass. Guests include guitarist Russell Malone and vocalist Edward Perkins, who appears on four cuts. Batiste comes up with a thoroughly contemporary jazz album that does not forgo or forget the tradition. "Clean Air," with vocals by Perkins, is a little unsettling at first but settles in nicely with lovely playing from Malone and the bandleader. On "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone," Batiste references the standard "Summertime" before slipping into a gorgeous blues with wonderful piano work by Fields. "Bumps" takes New Orleans second-line rhythms, marries them to Afro-Cuban ones, and marries them to a bop framework. Riley's drum work here is utterly brilliant. The ballad "Ever Loving Star" is a showcase for vocalist Perkins, and he digs deeply into the soul of the tune; the solos taken by Batiste and Marsalis on tenor complement each other wonderfully and take the tune into entirely new regions. The wonderfully breezy "Edith" is a gorgeous workout for the leader, supported with a floating middle register by Fields. The knotty head in "The Latest" is Batiste at his very best, and Rodriguez's bass work here showcases his versatility to flit between bop, post-bop and even modal jazz without ever losing his sense of time. But it's on the ballads such as "Skylark" that the great clarinet master, despite his quickness and depth, gets to showcase his inherent sense of lyricism, and he does. With Malone as a foil, he allows the blues to influence every single line. The knotty "Bat Trad" references the outside, but just a bit as the sheer muscular bebop is played seemingly seamlessly and Batiste leads them through the various themes and interpolations with real style and command. While the four vocals on this set may be a distraction for some, they shouldn't be. For one, the playing of this band is nearly symbiotic. Secondly, Perkins is a fine singer, and thirdly, this is one of the hardest swinging albums to hit the shelf in 2007.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek