For the master trumpeter’s label debut for Blue Note, Wynton Marsalis offers one of his finest recordings to date. From the splendid opening "The Feeling of Jazz," with Diane Reeves on a bluesy vocal reminiscent at times of classic Ella, to the closing title cut this is classy and classic top to bottom. Produced by brother Delfeayo Marsalis, it is Wynton’s first small ensemble work in many years.
Marsalis is one of the innovators of jazz, one of the geniuses who continue to move this music forward. A link in a rich lineage that began with Buddy Bolden, he incorporates elements of Armstrong, Eldridge, Gillespie, Miles, Navarro, and Hubbard into his tapestry of sounds, but clearly Marsalis is equal to any of the masters that came before him.
"You and Me" has a lilting bouncing quality. The hand claps that open, the syncopated drumming incorporating bass drum and cymbals, the lilting piano and steady bass, and that magnificent muted trumpet combine for one of the most infectious tunes that Wynton Marsalis has ever recorded. The following "Free to Be" is a relatively straight ahead bop based number that is cast in exciting runs. Here Marsalis plays crystal clear lines, with glissandi and trills aplenty. Eric Lewis’ piano is riveting and the busy rhythm section of Carlos Henriquez and Ali Jackson on bass and drums respectively is allotted time to strut their own impressive chops, as well. "Baby, I Love You" opens with a sweet muted horn straight out of the Crescent City tradition before Bobby McFerrin breaks in with a typically tasteful vocal on the co-written composition (all others are Marsalis-penned).
"Big Fat Hen" is an Afro-Cuban number that evinces images of that hen wiggling its big fat chicken butt all over the barnyard, and the appropriately titled "Skipping" has a darting trumpet line that shows off the trumpeter’s considerable chops. "Sophia Rose-Rosalee" is a beautiful and pensive number that reminds of Miles. Following a lush piano intro, Marsalis utilizes the mute to wonderful effect.
The closing title piece is a 13-minute plus tour de force. Marsalis is clearly in his element with the small ensemble. That this quartet is extra-ordinary is never more apparent than on this closer. From the introductory upper stratosphere bumblebee-quick trumpet lines and sizzling cymbals, into dizzying piano runs, it takes a medium tempo rest, again with wonderful piano and drumming. The trumpeter picks up the line and reprises the buzzing before dropping back into a bluesy melody. That pattern continues - quick, relaxing, frantic, mellow. This number serves as the centerpiece of the project, and allows the players space to stretch and run with the rhythm. It’s nothing less than dazzling.
A side note: Marsalis speaks of knowing these players since they were teenagers or younger and came to his gigs or workshops. While I don’t claim to know him, drummer Ali Jackson, the nephew of the great jazz drummer Oliver ‘Bops’ Jackson, is the son of the great bassist Ali Muhammad Jackson, a man who I had the great pleasure of knowing well 30 years ago. Ali lived and breathed music and his children were constantly surrounded by some of the most talented players in Detroit coming up. I remember his kids running around their house in Detroit banging on all manner of things. His dad would be proud.