Minions Dominion is the third album by trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, recorded in early 2002 and finally out almost five years later. A lot of things happened during that span; Delfeayo's mentor and the set's drummer, Elvin Jones, passed on, and Katrina devastated Marsalis's hometown, incidentally delaying this release another year as a minor footnote. The music collected here seems none the worse for any of that, sounding fresh and, among other things, serving as a nice coda to Jones's remarkable career.
There's something very right about the association between Jones and Delfeayo Marsalis; the very visible Marsalis clan may seem like the first family of jazz, but they are not the first great family the music has known. When Delfeayo, Branford, Wynton and Jason were mere twinkles in father Ellis's eyes, brothers Elvin, Thad and Hank Jones were each en route to establishing their own musical legacies. The comfortable interplay between Elvin and Delfeayo on display on Minions Dominon doubtlessly was honed over the many years the two played together in Elvin Jones' Jazz Machine, but the common experience of being a part of a generation of great jazz players must've contributed to the musical bond as well.
The rest of the band is scarcely less accomplished, including a consistently inspired Mulgrew Miller on piano and, alternately, Donald Harrison on alto sax, and the aforementioned Branford Marsalis on tenor and soprano. The program begins with the swinging bop of "Brer Rabbit," Miller playing a swinging line atop Robert Hurst's walking bass as Delfeayo solos with an unusually assured tone for the instrument before a discursive Harrison and the others take their turns. Jones propels the tune with characteristic intensity, reminding you again what an artist he was. Other tunes conjure other moods; "Lone Warrior," written by the trombonist for the drummer, features another hard bop line, but is infused with the modality of the group Jones will always be best known for, the John Coltrane Quintet. Harrison's solo contains allusions to Coltrane's playing as well, and Edwin Livingston's figure on bass seems partially derived from Reggie Workman's playing on Coltrane's "Ole" as well.
Other noteworthy tracks include the lovely ballad "If You Only Knew," Delfeayo playing some of the most lyric trombone you will ever hear on this one, giving way to some nice smoky tenor from Branford. The title theme plays at discord, featuring some jagged changes that seem inspired by Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman before giving way to a fairly orderly blowing session. The closing "Lost in the Crescent" is an even more explicit evocation of Coltrane (beginning, I suppose, with the title, as much a reference to Coltrane's Crescent as to the Marsalis's hometown of New Orleans), the piece starting slowly and gathering steam, reaching its apogee during a busy soprano solo from Branford and returning to its mournful theme.
Minions Dominion is a major effort in every way worthy of the Marsalis name and as a posthumous addition to the catalogue of Elvin Jones. Delfeayo establishes himself as his brothers' equal as both a player and a songwriter. Let's hope he will soon match their degree of notoriety as well.