Marsalis jazz is marvelous

In the resurgent wave of jazz that is sweeping the country, and particularly this city, one could accurately consider trumpeter Wynton Marsalis a standard-bearer.
In two performances at the Civic Center’s Isthmus Theater Sunday night, Marsalis showed that standard to be of exceptionally high quality.

Marsalis, who turned 21 only months ago, has been causing a significant stir in the jazz ranks. He entered the Juilliard school at 18 and quickly set that institution on its ear. From there, he toured with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Shortly thereafter, he was signed to CBS, and took a leave from Blakey to join the Herbie Hancock Quartet.

His debut LP, produced by Hancock, exploded onto the charts. Live, Marsalis and his backing quartet turned that explosion into non-stop fireworks.
A native of New Orleans in New York, Marsalis has a deep respect for the jazz tradition. Despite his initial classical training, the young hornman considers himself “a jazz musician who can play classical music.”
Marsalis believes that classical background gives him the ability to see every aspect of a composition. As a result his performance Sunday was a masterpiece of technique coupled with intensely expressive dynamics. Whether it was a piece by Tony Williams, Thelonious Monk or one of his own, Marsalis bent twisted, snapped and stretched the limits of the music and his instrument. Even his arrangement of Anthony Newley’s “Who Can I Turn To” was far from the commercial track.

There were no show-biz frills here. Tunes were lengthy, with only a half-dozen needed to fill 75 minutes and any chatter would probably have broken the spell cast over the near-capacity crowds. Branford Marsalis covered saxes with as much energy as his brother put into trumpet Jeff Watts drove tempos relentlessly on drums while Phil Bowler kept a sure hand on it all on stand-up bass. Kenny Kirkland provided rhythm treatments on piano and daring solos that swung for the fringe whenever the Marsalis brothers took a breather.

Wynton Marsalis is a leader of jazz journeys. He’s an explorer using the trumpet to show us some very colorful and exotic locales. He is inspiring some excited talk in the world of jazz. We can turn to greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Ornette Coleman to see where some of the pioneers have been. Wynton Marsalis seems destined to show where jazz is going.

By Michael St John
Source: Wisconsin State Journal

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