Wynton Marsalis supreme on first disc

It’s been almost two decades since anyone has electrified the inner circle of the jazz world as much as a young trumpet player from New Orleans named Wynton Marsalis. And a lot of fans are hoping that his prodigious talent can help lift the music ơut of its current depressed state.

Why the decline? One reason is that jazz has had a dearth of inventive soloists in recent years. The last musician to generate any real excitement among members of the inner circle was the late John Coltrane in the mid-60s.

Marsalis, only 20 years old and still “woodshedding” at Juilliard, has been impressing musicians with his potential. It is the stuff of the supreme jazz trumpeters: Armstrong, Eldridge, Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Red Rodney, Maynard Ferguson, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard.

There have been other brilliant virtuosos – Bill Hardman, Charles Tolliver, Booker Little, Chet Baker, Bill Fielding – but none of these has had the impact of the aforementioned in influencing budding jazz trumpeters, and even other instrumentalists, around the world.

Fortunately, the competition won’t deter Marsalis, because most of the legendary trumpeters are either advanced in age or deceased. And many of the other trumpeters are either clones of the pioneers or fusion players – most of whom don’t measure up to the creators, anyway. Money and fame, however, have tempted even the best of artists to go to the commercial route.

“STRAIGHT AHEAD,” a Concord album by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, is apparently Marsalis’ first recording, and he wisely chose the legendary percussionist Blakey to lead him. Few leaders can compare to Blakey when it comes to nurturing young talent.

It should also be noted that the high-powered Blakey was largely responsible for introducing the subtle African rhythmic approach to bebop – indeed,
to American music itself. Blakey also helped wean my favorite trumpeter, the late Clifford Brown.

The other musicians on this album – Charles Fambrough, bass; Billy Pierce, tenor saxophone; Bobby Watson, alto saxophone; and James Wiliams, piano – rise admirably to the occasion. Besides Blakey, though, Marsalis is clearly the one to study. He is featured on “How Deep Is the Ocean” an Irving Berlin tune that demonstrates he can sing notes on his trumpet as sweetly and gloriously as Brown could.

Marsalis’ souad can be distinguished from other trumpeters because be boldly explores regions most trumpeters avoid. There is a feeling that be is
simultaneously humming the notes while be is playing them on the trumpet, in the manner of bassist Slam Stewart. Marsalis also plays pedal tones, which are the low notes beyond the legitimate range on the low end of the trumpet. These and other explorations give him a unique flugelhorn sound.

Blakey, still youthful at 61, pushes his soloists with breakneck tempos, riding them with heavy use of the sock cymbal and beating the cymbals with
lightning-like speed. Take note of “E.T.A.,” a blues in F Minor that is so fast that Marsalis fails to reach certain notes.

A native of New Orleans who was given his first trumpet by Al Hirt, Marsalis has recorded an album for Columbia that is set for release in mid-January. Hard-line jazz enthusiasts turned off in recent years by a lot of contemporary trash dubbed jazz will be thrilled to know that there is, indeed, someone out there capable of expanding on the legacy of Dizzy and the others.

Source: New York Daily News

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