In 1999 Thomas Marriott won the prestigious Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Competition sponsored by the International Trumpet Guild and the Herb Albert Foundation. Michael Caldwell wrote in the March 2000 International Trumpet Guild Journal: "[His] confident stage demeanor and intense interest in the rhythm section adds depth and character to his performance. A particularly interesting aspect of Marriott's playing is his ability to intentionally displace phrases without losing the flow of the tune. Marriott is a musician who consistently addresses musical considerations without any apparent technical difficulties."
A Seattle native, he has been back in the Puget Sound region since 2004 after approximately four years in New York City; he moved there in 2000 after joining Maynard Ferguson's big band and did three world tours with Ferguson. He worked with a batch of world-class musicians including Bob Berg, Brian Lynch, Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente and Eric Reed. Marriott also was commissioned to compose three original works for the Ground Floor Dance Collaborative and fronted his own bands while in the NYC metro area.
Both Sides of the Fence features a superb quartet: Marriott on trumpet and flugelhorn; Marc Seales playing piano and Fender Rhodes; Jeff Johnson on bass; and drummer John Bishop. Vibraphonist Joe Locke is a special guest on the Crombie-Green standard "So Near, So Far" and on Chick Corea's "Tones for Joan's Bones." Locke and Marriott co-lead a quartet that performed February 23rd on the main stage at the Denver Jazz Festival (coincidentally just as this review was being completed.) Seattle jazz icon Hadley Caliman is also a guest, playing gorgeous tenor saxophone on Marriott's composition "What the Mirror Said."
Marriott's luminous, warm tone is rare among post-bop trumpeters. There is plenty of fire in his playing, but it is a subdued glow rather than a raging inferno. The trumpet's heraldic history lends itself to an aggressive, "in-your-face" quality of expression by many players; in jazz, tone has taken a backseat to quicksilver ideas and complex lines for the most part since the days of Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, et al. Marriott is an enormously subtle player who retains a pure, rounded, opulent timbre even when negotiating the "fly specks on paper" steeplechases favored by the bop and hard bop originators; witness his brief adamantine solo on the title selection, a Marriott original. An analogue that springs to mind is Art Farmer, who also had an uncanny way of making a decidedly muscular instrument sound positively delicate. Don't confuse delicacy with wimpiness however; there's a strong sense of power held in reserve: a cathexis for jazz in its myriad forms rather than a catharsis of unbounded emotion. When Marriott reaches into the higher registers there's no feeling of strain or pushiness. He is a master of melodic improvisation.
The program on this disc is remarkably fresh an variegated. Marriott's original compositions - "Both Sides of the Fence," "The Ninnen" and "What the Mirror Said" - are memorable melodies that remain in one's consciousness long after the CD has ceased to spin. There are three pieces that might be termed "not-so-standard standards": "So Near, So Far," the Dubin-Warren "Summer Night" and Ernesto Lecuona's "The Breeze and I." An engaging symmetry - three threes - is completed with the inclusion of a trio of unhackneyed pieces from the jazz canon: Duke Ellington's "New World A Comin'," Freddie Hubbard's "Sky Dive" and "Tones for Joan's Bones."
There aren't any duds in this collection. It would be pointless to attempt a play-by-play description as the program is jam-packed with highlights, including brilliant solo work from Seales. His Fender Rhodes lends an early CTI era Freddie Hubbard ambiance to "The Ninnen," a feeling that is echoed less obliquely three tracks later on Hubbard's "Sky Dive." Marriott is not as coruscating as Hubbard was in his prime; he may be somewhat less flashy, but his melodically imaginative solos tell some convincing stories. Marriott deserves kudos for interpreting the infrequently played "New World A Comin'." It's a ravishingly beautiful performance. Marriott remains muted throughout and - unlike scores of otherwise original trumpeters - doesn't sound anything at all like Miles Davis. Miles and his followers often sound as if they're trying to blow the mute right out of the bell. Not so with Marriott.
2007 may still be in its infancy, but I'd wager that this CD stands a good chance of being chosen as record of the year when Earshot conducts its annual poll. In addition to frequent performances with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, Carlos Cascante y su Tumbao, Marc Seales' New Quintet and Greta Matassa, Marriott may be heard every Sunday at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard.