Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis of the famed musical Marsalis family has released Sweet Thunder on Troubador Jass Records. In additional to an all-star cast of his contemporaries, Delfeayo surrounds himself with capable saxophonists Mark Gross, Jason Marshall, Mark Shim as well as brother Branford Marsalis. 

The 12 song recording Sweet Thunder takes its cue from Duke Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder which dates back to 1956.  Ellington and longtime collaborator Billy Strayhorn penned a dozen compositions as “a classic musical tribute to the most consistent and poetic writer of the English language, William Shakespeare.” According to the liner notes, only three of the compositions came from Strayhorn with the bulk of the material coming straight out of Ellington himself.

Here on Delfeayo Marsalis’ Sweet Thunder, the first noteworthy moment on saxophone come from Mark Shim during the blistering double-time chorus on Sonnet to Hank Cinq. Mark Gross and Jason Marshall solo as well, however it is the final uncredited soprano saxophone cadenza that is worthy of attention during the final bars.

Branford Marsalis’ soprano saxophone solo offers a somewhat angular and strongly Middle-Eastern flavor on Half the Sun. The mild Bolero – for lack of a better description – erupts into an improvisational free-for-all from Branford and the rhythm section. The ensemble follows in keeping with the initial Bolero feel and improvised ostinato from Red Atkins on piano. Later, Branford explores the outer limits on his “free” improvisation on Sonnet for Caesar. 

Up & Down, Up & Down is an enjoyable, light swing tune that blossoms into a full-blown, hard swingin’ romp. This time it is Victor Goines on soprano sax, Mark Gross on alto and Marshall on baritone. Goines can also be heard playing sopranino extensively on Madness in Great Ones.

Although the focus here may be the saxophone playing, it would be a crime to overlook the beautiful trombone playing of Delfeayo Marsalis on the tender ballad Star Crossed Lovers. Mark Gross is featured on his robust alto saxophone sound following the understated melody outlined by Marsalis.

One of the most energetic displays of musicianship comes at the hands of the ensemble on Sonnet in Search of A Moor. Bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Jason Marsalis lay down a sizzling swing tempo behind pianist Red Atkins. Goines solos on tenor and Jason Marsalis gets an opportunity to stretch on the tubs. Trumpet master Tiger Okoshi also appears throughout the recording and gets a chance to be featured predominantly on The Telecasters.

Lady Mac begins with a clever deception on the part of pianist Red Atkins. The decidedly Gospel piano intro seems to prepare the listener for something other than this medium swing tune. It is a delightful intrduction, whether deceptive by design or not.

Delfeayo Marsalis gets the last word – and deservedly so, at is his album after all. Circle of Fourths begins its up-tempo vamp with Marsalis soloing on trombone. Tenor player Mark Shim also shows off his ability to play serious tempos on this final cut.

Traditional jazz lovers who enjoy jazz performed in a traditional setting will surely love Delfeayo Marsalis’ Sweet Thunder. The ensemble swings hard and keeps the spirit of Ellington’s music alive.

You can find out more about Delfeayo Marsalis at