All too often you hear that jazz is dead, that there is little of significance being created today. Maybe the playing field is just so large that it can be more difficult to identify major leaps forward than in past decades. Still, for a marginalized genre that is responsible for something like 3% of total CD sales in the United States, one need only look at the sheer volume of new releases by young artists each and every month to realize that if you think jazz is dead, you're just not looking hard enough.
Take Seattle trumpeter Thomas Marriott, who has been based in New York for the past few years. While his name is something of a well kept secret and he is seriously under-recorded, he has managed to gain some profile as part of groups led by vibraphonist Joe Locke, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, singer Rosemary Clooney, and saxophonist Bob Berg. Stepping out on his first release as a leader, Individuation, Marriott offers a warm tone and middle-of-the register style that is firmly rooted in Miles Davis by way of Dave Douglas.
In fact, some tracks on Individuation, with David Budway's Fender Rhodes, are distinctly reminiscent of Douglas' The Infinite. The sheer melodicism of the relaxed opener, "Sing a Song," followed by the looser and more raucous "Domino City," packs the same kind of solid one-two punch that Douglas did with the opening of his disc.
And any release that features Joe Locke as co-producer, vibraphonist (on four tracks), and contributor of two compositions and an arrangement is worth investigating for that reason alone. It's no surprise that Locke's two compositions, the aforementioned "Domino City"ˇ and the poignant closer, "Returning,"ˇ demonstrate the kind of musical breadth and depth that anyone who knows him has come to expect.
But while Locke's influence is felt throughout the recordingˇeven on the tracks on which he doesn't playˇthis is really Marriott's showcase. With a purity of tone and economical approach, he is as comfortable on tunes like the eminently singable "Sing a Song" and "Love You Tonight" as he is on the group's more freewheeling approach to "Tout de Suite," originally on Miles Davis' transitional Filles de Kilimanjaro. His spare voice and thematic approach to improvisation clearly make him someone to watch.
Equally worth keeping an eye on is alto saxophonist Rick Mandyck, who plays on three tracks. His solo on "Tout de Suite" cleverly utilizes a repeated two-note motif that links together his more outer-reaching ideas. Budway, bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop are all firm yet supple accompanists; Johnson and Bishop have worked together before, and it shows.
Those who doubt there is anything left to listen for in jazz need only search out new releases like Individuation to realize that jazz is not dead. It's vibrantly alive and, with young artists like Marriott, possessed of a sure future.