What do the elders of the blues, such roof-raisers as B.B. King and John Lee Hooker, have to say to the erudite whiz kids of jazz, and vice versa? Though the blues are implicit in all jazz, what happens when the fundamentalism of the former meets the layers of invention of the latter? In this case, a fine time is had by all.
Marsalis and his confreres from The Tonight Show band—Kenny Kirkland on piano, Robert Hurst on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums—slide comfortably into the blues milieu, modernizing subtly. One of the pleasures of the album, though, is the four distinct blues-guitar styles it showcases. In the pleading “Mabel,” Hooker unleashes one of his hard, tangled solos. Then there’s King’s slithery glisten on “B.B.’s Blues,” Joe Louis Walker’s whippy swagger on “The Road You Choose” (with an emphatic vocal by Linda Hopkins) and the reverberant intimacy of Russel Malone’s acoustic guitar on Marsalis’ lazy back-porch blues, “Rib Tip Johnson.”
On “Rib Tip” and two other cuts, Marsalis plays soprano sax. He’s at his best on the instrument: bright and round in tone, wonderfully fluid and supple in line. When he, on soprano, and younger brother Wynton, the trumpeter, hook up with Wes Anderson on alto sax and David Sagher on trombone for “Sidney in da Haus,” Branford’s tribute to the great soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet, the album hits its zenith. Among the 10 tunes, four hard-blowing jazz cuts, sans blues guests, give Heard a lumpy structure, but their verve and execution lift you over the humps. (Columbia)