Wynton Marsalis Quintet has good, bad moment

The great alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley once said, “Never trust a man in a clean trench coat.”
I doubt if he was thinking of Wynton Marsalis, whose quintet played Sunday night at the Civic Center, since Marsalis was probably still running around New Orleans in knee pants when Adderley’s horn was silenced. Although I have never seen Marsalis in a trenchcoat he gives himself time to shed it before he comes onstage I bet none of his suits, which he always wears onstage, ever has so much as a wrinkle or a baggy knee.

But Mr. Adderley clearly meant more than this. It suggests to me music that is the result of much good mechanics but without the grit of life to give it force and feeling. Many of Marsalis’ solos, while well-structured from a formal point of view, and hence tight and cohesive, nevertheless hit a certain level of expressive intensity early and stayed there. When a solo did seem to build more, it nevertheless cut off before reaching a peak. His rhythms had a tendency to be foursquare.

There was little syncopation or sliding ahead of or behind the beat There were exceptions. His solo on one slow number, the second tune after intermission, was quite expressive. And the torrent of notes he unleashed on “Cherokee” generated a lot of energy through the Oscar Mayer Theater.

And one cannot fault his technique within the limited range that he chooses to employ it. His open sound is big, generous, rich, never harsh except on those rare occasions when he wants it to be. His finger work and his phrasing cannot be faulted.

His own compositions – sorry, I did not catch their names – are interesting, much more so than his solos. It’s too bad Marsalis does not develop the implications of their catchy rhythms and themes in his solos. Some of the same could be said for tenor saxophonist Don Braden, who would sometimes string out phrases of eighth or sixteenth notes with little inflection. When he played with feeling, though, it was unpretentious and direct and even funky on occasion.

Pianist Marcus Roberts, on the other hand, was sensational. His solo on Thelonious Monk’s “Let’s Cool One,” employed in a masterful way Monk’s way of paraphrasing a tune with all kinds of wittily displaced rhythms. A couple of his solos in the second half built to peaks of tremendous intensity, working closely with the driving drumming of Jeff Watts. Roberts drew a wide palette of colors from the piano and used them sensitively in support of other soloists throughout the evening. Watts tried to drive other soloists the way he seemed to propel Roberts, but with little response. He is a fine, energetic but fluid drummer.

Bass player Bob Hurst seemed to do good work but could not be heard very well The audience of 1,000 saw things differently, giving the group a standing ovation, which got them an encore.

by Steve Groark
Source: Wisconsin State Journal

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