The Sun and the Moon
The Razor Rim
First Slow Dance
A Train, A Banjo, and A Chicken Wing
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.