As the title to Wynton’s fifth Blue Note release indicates, He and She is about that eternally compelling and most elemental of subjects: the relationship between a man and a woman. The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, trumpeter, and band leader, however, hasn’t merely crafted a love story, but a life story — a bittersweet rumination about the evanescence of life as well as the elusiveness of romance. Time is very much at the heart of He and She: the swift passage of time over the course of one’s life, the mood-altering shifts of time within the duration of a song. It’s an ambitious effort, combining spoken word and music, and Marsalis has given his quintet some formidable charts. The album is tempered with dashes of humor and plenty of swing. There’s ease and elegance and more than a little wisdom in these grooves.
|The Sun And The Moon||6:31||Play|
|The Razor Rim||12:05||Play|
|First Slow Dance||4:37||Play|
|A Train, A Banjo, And A Chicken Wing||8:12||Play|
|He And She||5:00||Play|
Mediocrity and submission to adolescent trends might form the low road to commercial success, but only quality is truly liberating. If one is a musician, mediocrity darkens the notes until all timeless meaning disappears. Quality turns on all of the lights of human meaning inside of the notes until the true point of art is achieved, that timeless vitality that is beyond all styles but can be fully present in any.
That is why it is always uplifting to realize that after all of these years in the chilling and carnivorous limelight of show business, Wynton Marsalis continues to hold his position as a major force in American art by sustaining the integrity that undergirds his every creation. Like all artists not completely lost in themselves, he wants to communicate with his listeners and, like all adventurers, he wants to discover new places that can charismatically be mapped out in his work. But he does not believe that the music needs any greater compromise than preparing oneself to play as well as possible. That’s right: as well as possible.
Marsalis understands that all art is in dialogue with the greatest triumphs of its past, and that true individuality comes from the quality of that dialogue. Long ago he moved beyond a single style to call up the broadest possible range of expression available to him and native to the art of jazz. As he has said, “I’m not interested in playing a style of jazz, I am interested in playing jazz, and playing or adapting any style or combination of styles that express my imagination as I hear and feel it.”
To those ends Marsalis has, as he always does, found musicians who either do or learn to do whatever is asked of them. As always, and because this is jazz, the musicians bring something so personal it achieves the special. In saxophonist Walter Blanding, pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Carlos Henriquez, and drummer Ali Jackson, Marsalis has put together a quintet of young musicians whose work underlines the ongoing renaissance that integrity always brings to the arts. Each of these men can stand up to the music.
Marsalis has always been proud of the superb Walter Blanding. The reed man impressed his eventual bandleader at the age of fifteen in New York while still at LaGuardia High School. Marsalis says that even then Blanding had the sound of jazz and jazz commitment dripping from each note, a kind of soulful swamp goo born of a feeling for the blues. Blanding is as capable of playing those blues with authority as he is of executing seemingly impossible written passages with Marsalis that evoke the kind of precision that we once heard in Gillespie and Parker. He also knows how to lean his tone on some satin until it turns to shimmering silk in the aural land of romance and reflection.
Pianist Dan Nimmer looks like a midwestern car salesman but has a peculiarly fluid jazz enthusiasm that cannot be faked. You either have it or you don’t got it. He got it. That enthusiasm for swing extends through his features, through the empathy that defines the quality of his accompaniment, and gives him a hot and bothered beat that already points Nimmer toward the top line of players.
Carlos Henriquez is from the Bronx and had already played with Tito Puente and other kings of Latin music in New York when, at fifteen, he went to Marsalis’s house to play with him. What separates Henriquez from most young bass players, besides the fact that he uses no amp, is the size and width of his quarter note, the key to swinging on the bass. That swing is what took Marsalis off guard. He knew a young man was standing before him who had everything necessary to become a great jazzman. Henriquez has developed a very personal version of the sound that Charles Mingus brought to the bass and, of course, has extreme command of rhythmic subtlety and a deep knowledge of Latin grooves that has greatly contributed to the rhythmic accuracy of the band’s power.
Finally, Ali Jackson brings an intelligence and thorough command of his instrument that allow him to be as quietly driving as Connie Kay or as explosive as Elvin Jones. He has woven those opposites together with an intensely clear understanding of grooves and their many mutations. That command of jazz feeling provides an extremely lucid and liberating rhythmic foundation. Sweet or hot and hot or sweet, as well as anything in between: that’s him.
They all sound like nothing less than professionals who are also inspired artists. Just what one needs for a great band. But a great band demands a great listener, so enjoy the kind of music that not only provides enjoyment but creates an elevated state in which the listener, through heart and mind, becomes another member of the band and can travel with it as far back as far back goes or as far out as far out will. Then the feeling of jazz is fully realized. Timelessness has become a normal condition.
— Stanley Crouch
Walter Blanding (tenor & soprano saxophones), Dan Nimmer (piano), Carlos Henriquez (bass), Ali Jackson (drums)