Marsalis heats up night with one hot trumpet

LIKE JACK’S beanstalk, Wynton Marsalis is likely to grow a great deal on any given night.
Gifted with a remarkable trumpet technique and a similarly startling musical imagination, Marsalis is, at age 22, already an important artist and one who should continue to develop foe some time to come.

All this growth and development necessarily involve rapid change, and during Marsalis’ first set Tuesday night at the Jazz Showcase in the Blackstone Hotel where he will be appearing through Sunday, he seemed to be one kind of player at one moment and another kind of player at the next. The opening tune, Marsalis’ “Knozz-Moe-King” [say it out loud and you’ll get the joke], found him adopting a soberly thoughtful approach at first, as though he were emulating Don Cherry or trying to reproduce on trumpet the wry, linear wit that once characterized the work of Wayne Shorter.

Then came a shift to double time, heralded by a vigorous growl, and Marsalis soared into flamboyant, multinoted cascades, which were fascinating in themselves but had only a tenuous relationship to what had come before. [It was pleasing, though, to hear how closely tied to the beat those double-time flurries were, for too many players tend to blur the rhythmic profile of their lines at such moments of peak intensity.]

THE FEELING that we were getting two or more versions of Marsalis within a single solo was even stronger on the next tune, “I’ll Close My Eyes,” which included the bluesiest playing I’ve ever heard from him.

Marsalis battered his way through the changes with a raw, blaring bluntness that would have done credit to Harry “Sweets” Edison and then, in the midst of this neo-swing era climate, threw in an astonishing phrase that began far behind the beat and proceeded to float even further away until it curled up in some private, musing realm.

For all its beauty, that moment was just a moment, though – as isolated from the overall flow of the music as a fabulous slam-dunk would be in the midst of a basketball game. In fact, the gamelike quality of Marsalis’ playing is its most notable feature right now, as he toys with all the various styles and techniques that must be pouring through his mind.

Marsalis older brother and frontline partner, tenor saxophonist Branford Marsalis, is another gamelike player, very much in the Shorter mold, and the rhythm section [pianist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Jeff Watts] was strong, with Kirkland displaying considerable solo prowess.

Otherwise, the band was a little less than the sum of its parts, as tunes that ought to have built in dramatic intensity instead became a string of solos. But Marsalis’ best moments Tuesday night are now among the musical memories I’m not likely to forget.

By Larry Kart
Source: Chicago Tribune

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