For those outside of the Pacific Northwest, Seattle may not be known as a jazz city, but there are some stellar musicians in the region, and one of the best examples of what is going on in the Puget Sound vicinity is trumpeter Thomas Marriott. Marriott uses traditional, post-bop jazz as a starting point, but his character and personality encompasses a wide assortment of influences, which gives Marriott's latest offering, Flexicon, a straightforward, but searching mannerism. His album title reveals his ability at mixing and balancing, as it combines lexicon (the vocabulary of a particular language) with flexible (capable of being bent, without breaking).
The nine-track set bursts open with a highly heated rendition of Freddie Hubbard's "Take It to the Ozone." Marriott's initial trumpet solo shows a tonal perfection and authority evocative of Roy Hargrove or Lee Morgan. Joe Locke quickly adds a spirited and fast-paced vibes solo that matches Marriott in speed and clarity.
Locke is heard again on an urbanized take of John Barry's famous James Bond theme, "You Only Live Twice," which Shirley Bassey took into the top ten. While the band preserves the spy movie motif, they furnish their interpretation an expanded viewpoint and a metropolitan groove that dispenses with any unnecessary pop-jazz leanings, with lengthy, freely-flowing solos from Locke and Marriott.
The program turns darker and more mysterious on Wayne Shorter's "Masquelero," where saxophonist Mark Taylor plays dazzling soprano sax lines atop a lightly funky groove laid out on Fender Rhodes by keyboardist Bill Anschell. Its here the musical landscape becomes more explorative, with enhanced trade-off moments between the players, who collectively create a moody energy. Drummer Matt Jorgensen keeps a dapper percussive cadence rolling along, comparable to a steady tidal movement.
Marriott understands how to take familiar themes or songs and provide them an individual stamp, which is of course the mark of a musician who is a cut above the pack. For instance, he refracts the recognizable Rodgers and Hart standard "Spring Is Here." Marriott and the ensemble retain a respectful tack, but give the tune an animated, contemporary treatment. The group gooses the well-known hit, starting the seven-minute piece with a brisk stride adorned by Marriott's sprightly flugelhorn and a shimmering Anschell piano solo, then the arrangement slows as Jeff Johnson, one of the best bassists in the Washington state area, displays his fluid skills.
Seattle boasts plenty of windswept, rainy nights when the atmosphere is subdued and ebbing. That introspective sense of listening to the raindrops while absorbed in a good book is sweetly evoked during a delicate reading of the popular Lou Carter/Herb Ellis/John Freigo ballad "Detour Ahead." Marriott switches to mute, and Anschell is featured on a romantic piano solo reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi. Anschell and Marriott also shine on a lonely, somber duet version of Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue," where Marriott's horn narrates the sad tale with a sonorous, intimate inflection that recalls Chet Baker, who likewise recorded Costello's emotionally naked composition.
Marriott's three originals are a reflection of his personal life, musical and otherwise, and illustrate Marriott's ongoing growth as a songwriter and arranger. "Little Frances," a tribute to Marriott's youngest child, is a sixties-styled cut that showcases Marriott's purified, azure tone and also includes another distinct Johnson bass solo. Marriott continues his familial connections with the upbeat "Brothers & Sisters," penned to celebrate Frances' siblings Becky, Cecil, and David. Taylor and Marriott swap lyrical solos, while Johnson and Jorgensen maintain a circling rhythm foundation. Marriott's final conception is the playful, eccentric "Circadian Rhythms," where everyone gets time to perform during the quirky and offbeat arrangement.
It's no accident that poetry collections of ee cummings and Michael Harper grace the front cover of Flexicon. Like those gifted writers, Marriott has learned to heighten and develop his chosen voice, i.e., the language of jazz, drawing upon traditions and forms to particularize and express his individualistic art.