Review: Wynton Marsalis Quintet at Ronnie Scott’s

It’s easy to caricature Wynton Marsalis as the Brian Sewell of jazz, a fogey-ish cultural conservative who’ll gleefully disparage most innovations of the past half century. But, in art criticism terms, he’s closer to Robert Hughes. He’s a disappointed modernist: thrilled by the jazz avant garde of the 20s to the 50s, unimpressed by the postmodern fusions and wilful abstractions that followed.

And here, in this small, venerable jazz club, it all makes sense. This is the pulpit where Wynton’s sermons are most convincing. He can display the primacy of the swing beat with a remarkable hard-bop quintet who fizz and crackle and groove, who listen carefully, and whose solos sound like perfectly written narratives.

Marsalis deploys all his trumpet-playing tricks – the chromatic flourishes, dramatic leaps in register and terrifyingly fast themes juxtaposed with legato phrases. Often he stays to the left of the stage, soloing without a microphone, providing an aural history lesson. A Jelly Roll Morton number is a masterclass in the use of the plunger mute; All the Things You Are sees him playing alternate two-bar phrases with and without a Harmon mute, like a call-and-response conversation between Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

There’s a terrific reading of Thelonious Monk’s Green Chimneys, where Ali Jackson’s drums clank and rattle while Carlos Henriquez’s bass purrs. Tenorist Walter Blanding shreds politely on Ornette Coleman’s Ramblin’ (Wynton, like Philip Larkin, mischievously slots Ornette’s freeform honking into the New Orleans tradition). And Marsalis chuckles through each audacious solo by Dan Nimmer, possibly his finest pianist yet, as good as Marcus Roberts, Eric Reed or even Kenny Kirkland. Even for those underwhelmed by Marsalis’s LPs or his hubristic orchestral projects, it’s hard not to be impressed when you have the musical equivalent of ringside seats to the Harlem Globetrotters. Hopefully this should be evident when the 23 July show is streamed live.

by John Lewis
Source: The Guardian

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