Friday, June 4, 2010

Great Live Albums: Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis (trumpet; 1961)
Live At The Village Vanguard (Columbia, 1999)

So here's one of those situation where I was truly confounded over what to do.I'm not a huge Wynton Marsalis fan but I immensely respect what he has done for jazz over the last 30 years. Wynton's discography is enormous and therefore it is impossibly for anyone to know where to start. I have spoken about this before and I would highly recommend that you pick up the compilation, Popular Songs: The Best Of Wynton Marsalis (Columbia) which covers not all but a decent cross section of pieces that will give both the jazz fan and newcomer a good understanding of what Wynton is all about.

My real focus today though is on a seven disc set recorded over a four year period (1990-1994) at the legendary New York jazz club. Live At The Village Vanguard (Columbia) is really for the jazz purist. It embodies three different sets of Maraslis bands and covers a tremendous amount of ground. While this is by no means a comparison to the great and legendary performances recorded at the Vanguard (i.e. Sonny Rollins or John Coltrane) or any of the classic Miles/Coltrane era recordings--it is still a solid document of the most popular jazz musician/historian of the last 30+ years. These are straight ahead hard bop dates so there isn't allot of the deep New Orleans mantra that permeates so much of Wynton's material. At times the dates remind me of the young Wynton during his brief period with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers.

Live At The Village Vanguard is pretty by the numbers when it comes to the structure and tone. The bands are tight and play heavy and vigorous. Since its 4 dates and seven disc you can expect nice coverage of Wynton's career up to this point. There is material from his phenomenal fourth album, Black Codes (Columbia; 1985), the Southern trilogy, Soul Gestures In Southern Blue (Columbia; 1988)and the brilliant Citi Movement (Columbia; 1992) in addition to a number of Thelonious Monk covers. For me there isn't a standout of disc in the set but it more the about the performances that have you saying--wow! There is obviously some great solo work from Wynton throughout but one of my favourites is on the Monk cover "Four In One" which Wynton is really smokin'. A Wynton staple "Cherokee" (written by Ray Noble) is featured twice. While not varied both version are still exquisite. There's also some beauty, buzzing work by the entire band on Ellington covers "Play The Blues And Go" and "In A Sentimental Mood".

It's hard to tell anyone in this financial environment that this boxed set is worth picking up (it is relatively cheap) but if you see it used that is probably the best bet for anyone including the casual jazz fan. It's a lot of music but it is played at the highest order and I think that would out way most concerns.

Wynton is still difficult proposition for most jazz fans (myself included) but there are a solid two handful of albums in his catalog that you should definitely take spin with and you should count Live At The Village Vanguard as one of them.

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