The son of New Orleans jazz polymath Kidd, trumpeter Marlon Jordan works largely in mainstream post-bop —- a glut of which has been heard by this second weekend of the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival. But Jordan rescued it from ennui at Twins Jazz Friday night with some of the most distinctive stylings the fest has had so far. Armed with pianist Allyn Johnson, drummer Aaron Walker, and a bassist whose name even Jordan couldn’t tell me (it was their first time playing together, he apologized), the trumpeter began inauspiciously enough with a program of jazz standards. But by the beginning of his second tune, Ellington and Juan Tizol‘s “Caravan,” Jordan had well established his arsenal of high-pitched, triple-tongued squeals that weren’t just for accent or surprise: he’d make long phrases and even full choruses out of them. But he’d also balance them out with aggressive low-reaching growls that called to mind Bubber Miley in the early Ellington orchestra.
These sounds continued through a full set of classics from “What Is This Thing Called Love” to Coltrane‘s “Impressions” to a slam-dunk reading of “Cherokee,” with Jordan also running sonically everywhere in between. Literally everywhere: his horn style was manic, busy, and intense; Jordan himself often looked like he was fighting the trumpet off him, jerking it in wide arcs in front of him and raising it to the ceiling for his high squeals.
The quartet was an incredible asset, too. Johnson, brilliant and flashy as always, worked glorious block chords and runaway right-hand melodies, also pulling a neat new trick in having the left hand doubling the right about three octaves down on “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Walker was a spectacular time keeper with great force on the rides and singular grasp of percussive color: he even played hand-drum on the snare during “Caravan.” It’s hard to know what to make of the bassist, though; his buzzy, clipped sound wasn’t quite the finesse that one expects in jazz, but he more than made up for it with his ear for chords and his melodic sense on solos.
The indisputable highlight was a slow, subtle take on Wayne Shorter‘s classic “Footprints,” about two-thirds of the way through the set; for once Jordan kept great space in his solo phrases, and concentrated on thoughtful lyricism only occasionally punctuated by bursts of adrenaline. Johnson and Walker did their best work here, too, Johnson with a rolling, pacific piano line that Walker supported with atmospheric cymbal work, and the bassist supplied an impressive solo that was slow and plodding, but also surefooted and clever.
The indisputable lowlight, however, was the four people at the front table who were telling loud stories with squawking laughter all through the set; not only would they not shut up no matter how many of us politely asked them to, but they would simply raise their voices when the volume of the music increased. Twins remains one of the best jazz clubs in DC, but their audiences aren’t winning any awards.