Artist: Marcus Shelby Orchestra
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 7, 2019
As we officially enter summertime and peak baseball season, jazz bassist Marcus Shelby offers an irresistible combination in his new album, Transitions. The centerpiece is Shelby’s original suite, “Black Ball: The Negro Leagues and the Blues,” inspired by his research for a similarly-themed theatrical project last September. Each movement reflects prominent Negro League teams and the music associated with their hometowns. “Transition 1 (Pittsburgh)” celebrates both the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays with a hard swinging tune featuring Rafa Pastel on trumpet. “Transition 2 (New York)” has a hip urban vibe punctuated by frenetic transitions and tenor sax solos by Patrick Wolff, while the tight and steady groove of “Barnstormin’ (Chicago)” morphs into the slow, bluesy drawl of a South Side speakeasy. Concluding with “Black Ball Swing,” Shelby pays tribute to the Kansas City Monarchs, “the most respected team of all-time in the Negro Leagues,” which of course warrants a large dose of the hard bop pioneered by KC native Charlie Parker. Other notable tracks on the album include Duke Ellington’s “On a Turquoise Cloud” performed by violinist Mads Tollings and five newly arranged tunes from the Cole Porter, George Shearing, and Ellington songbooks featuring vocalist Tiffany Austin.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss