Wynton Marsalis: He and She (Blue Note/EMI)

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Wynton Marsalis: A Train, A Banjo and a Chicken Wing
Wynton Marsalis: He and She (Blue Note/EMI)

It must be difficult being Wynton Marsalis, having done it all (at least if you consider "all" being going backwards through jazz pre-Sixties and bringing the music to the current generations) you must find the search for new forms of expression quite awkward, especially if you limit your palette as he has done.

His recent outing From the Plantation to the Penitentiary in which he rapped (going against how he had dismissed that idiom, and doing it badly) proved not everything he touched was gilded by his genius as his rah-rah man Stanley Crouch would have us believe. And although his more recent paring with Willie Nelson was pleasurable it was hardly essential or a pivotal moment in the careers of either, or in jazz and country music come to think of it.

This time out Marsalis addresses the changing and complex relationships between men and women (starting with boys and girls) and through brief spoken word passages he introduces the themes of the music to be explored by his small and damn fine band which takes on everything from New Orleans ragtime to swing and bebop with equal ease and freshness.

If the opener School Boy breaks no new ground, I guess it was never going to because it grounds itself in New Orleans. But after that the areas of personal expression open up and this band -- which includes the exceptional saxophonist Walter Blanding and pianist Dan Nimmer -- simply takes flight.

Marsalis is of course pure in tone, biting when required and really lets himself go in places. It makes for some thrilling music, notably on the 12 minute The Razor Rim. A couple of beautiful ballads also add texture.

So even though the spoken word passages may pall on a first hearing (they are tedious by the second) and the opener doesn't make this sound entirely promising, He and She has an upwards and outwards trajectory and is one of the most satisfying Marsalis albums in some time.

Maybe some days it isn't that difficult being Wynton Marsalis?

 

 

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