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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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He and She

Blue Note 50999 5 10331 2 5



1. Poem
2. School Boy
3. Poem
4. The Sun and the Moon
5. Poem
6. Sassy
7. Poem
8. Fears
9. Poem
10. The Razor Rim
11. Poem
12. Zero
13. Poem
14. First Crush
15. First Slow Dance
16. First Kiss
17. First Time
18. Poem
19. Girls!
20. Poem
21. A Train, A Banjo, and A Chicken Wing
22. He and She
Wynton Marsalis - Trumpet
Walter Blanding - Tenor sax, soprano sax
Dan Nimmer - Piano
Carlos Henriquez - Bass
Ali Jackson - Drums

When I started listening to this album, I thought that Wynton Marsalis had turned from a virtuoso trumpeter into a born-again feminist, as the first track is a "poem" which includes the line "Boys know less than girls do". However, this is offset by the second track, School Boy, whose old-fashioned two-beat style (complete with the drummer playing on the snare-drum rim as if it were a woodblock) suggests the ethos of the male-dominated past. But perhaps the awkward rhythm represents the insecure mood of the average schoolboy.

This is one of the problems with the album. The "Poems" which introduce nearly every track seem to contain a message - but the message is not necessarily reinforced by the music that follows. The music is very accessible but the verses mostly remain mystifying, although they are apparently intended to trace the progression of a boy-girl relationship. Listeners may find it easier to ignore the sections spoken by Marsalis and concentrate on the music, which - as ever with Wynton - is an interesting mix of ancient and modern: respecting the jazz tradition but willing to experiment with it.

For instance, Fears is founded upon a strong double-bass overlaid with slightly discordant chords. It is very like a piece by Charles Mingus, reminding us that Wynton Marsalis was prominent among the musicians who executed Mingus's Epitaph (which I reviewed  recently on DVD). And Zero is a meditative feature for tenor sax which is rather like one of those pieces that Mingus created for his saxophonists.

Marsalis says that he started by thinking about the waltz rhythm, and several pieces are swaying waltzes, such as The Sun and the Moon and First Crush. The longest track, The Razor Rim, is described as "swinging 3/4, Elvin Jones 5/4, refined burn-out 4/4 swing, modern 4/4 swing" - suggesting the breadth of Wynton's conception. But he also refers in the opening verse to "country bluesmen" and A Train, A Banjo and A Chicken Wing is a confident blues which shuffles along mannishly, even though it is preceded by a poem which asserts that "a woman can take more than a man can ever bring".

One always expects first-class musicianship from Marsalis and this album is no exception. His quintet contains no weak links and there are many memorable passages - such as Walter Blanding's swirling soprano sax in Sassy, Dan Nimmer's McCoy Tyneresque piano on The Razor Rim, and Wynton's own miraculous theme statement and more tender solo in First Time. Wynton Marsalis has sometimes been unfairly criticised for his advocacy of classic jazz and the importance of jazz as a genre, but this album illustrates how eclectic his music can be - and that it is not at all old-fashioned.

The CD ends with Marsalis reciting all the verses as one five-minute sequence, but they barely hold together as a coherent statement. Don't give up the music, Wynton.

Tony Augarde


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