Jazz’s monster

In sports, they call guys like Wynton Marsalis a phee-nom. In musician’s jargon, he’s known as a monster. One look at him, and you might wonder what all the noise is about.

Marsalis, a bespectacled, studious and conservatively dressed young man, looks more like a law student than the hottest property in jazz music today. That is, until he starts blowing his trumpet.

He blew his trumpet for 90 minutes Wednesday night at Plazazz, the start of an 11-day stay. He probably played more than he had planned, because his quintet was down to a quartet, thanks to pianist Kenny Kirkland missing his flight out of New York. Solo space was ample Wednesday.

Marsalis, who turned 22 in October, is probably the best thing to happen to jazz in many years. At a time when accomplished musicians play electronic drivel to reach a larger audience, along came Marsalis with a straight-ahead, hard-driving, uncompromising album (his 1982 debut record) that stayed on Billboard’s sales charts for 39 weeks, 17 of those in the top 10.

Listen to him and you’ll hear bits and pieces of other trumpet greats: Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis. During his opener, an original called Hesitation, he began gently, almost timidly, with a mute on the bell of the horn. There were fast runs interrupted by long, held notes and bent blues figures. There was an occasional shout in the upper register, and he made good use of dynamics and space (a Davis trademark). Often a fast run ended abruptly with a high note, as if punctuated by a question mark.

Branford Marsalis, one year older, shared his brother’s sense of dynamics and space on tenor and soprano saxophones. He can be very quick without showboating. His tone on tenor is much like Wayne Shorter’s (the Wayne Shorter of the late ’60s, the one who played a lot of tenor), and the precariousness of bis scales recalls John Coltrane (but then, what saxophonist with any fire doesn’t?).

Pianist Kirkland was definitely missed Marsalis’s music calls for a lot of interplay, and you need a piano but the rhythm section filled admirably. Bassist Charles Fambrough, new to the group, demonstrated a hundred ways of restating and shaping a walking bass line without abandoning it. Drummer Jeff Watts, who isn’t new, pushed and pulled the band and, like the soloists, often halted in mid-song to shift rhythmic gears.

Two major differences in the music since Marsalis’s last visit here 15 months ago: the arranging has been enriched, and the musicians are showing, by their arrangements and quotations from standard tunes, a sense of humor on stage. I’ll bet they’re dynamite with a piano player. The Marsalis quintet continues at Piazazz through Feb. 11.

By Marke Andrews
Source: The Vancouver Sun

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