Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year, Old Music

Live at the Village VanguardI have begun the new year by listening the last two days to the music of Wynton Marsalis' Septet on his seven CD box set "Live at the Village Vanguard" (Columbia 1999). While I have tried to focus on the unknown, the new, and the under-appreciated in my posts, I felt a strong urge to listen to Marsalis and to give him his due as a musician. 

There has been so much discussion about Marsalis, and his views on jazz, his feeling towards modernism, the third stream, electronica et al, that sometimes I think his actual musical contributions have become obscured and his music under-appreciated. I'm not sure it's "cool" to buy a Marsalis recording anymore, unless it's Branford doing his "Four MFs Playin' Tunes", a great recording in 2012, and that is really too bad. I've often noted I am not a critic, just a listener, and as such I get a lot of enjoyment out of many Marsalis' recordings, going back to his debut, through Black Codes, and more recently to his interesting collaborations with Richard Galliano, Eric Clapton, and Willie Nelson which while not spectacular are very listenable/enjoyable.

The "Live at the Village Vanguard" box stands out to me, with its recreation of seven nights at the club taken from his performances over a five year period that include welcomes and set breaks along with a myriad of great tunes and play by an outstanding band: Wessell "Warmdaddy" Anderson on alto sax (a personal favorite of mine), Victor Goines on tenor, alto and clarinet, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, Eric Reed or Marcus Roberts on piano, Herlin Riley on drums, and Reginald Veal or Ben Wolfe on bass. The live sets allow the band to stretch out, to improvise and create, which takes many of the standards in new directions often with more passion and energy than heard on the more staid studio recordings. As a result the music feels fresh, even by today's standards; "Embracable You" spins out into some very modern sounding harmonies and interplay among the band members, while "The Arrival" provides a lot of room for some more mainstream soloing by Marsalis on a muted trumpet and by Reed on piano. The band covers a wide range of styles including New Orleans jazz, mid-century swing, and firey post-bop, mixing standards and some of Marsalis' own pieces, and each member gets to strut his stuff throughout the over 8 hours of music. And the audience clearly is appreciative at each performance; listen to them after Monk's "Misterioso"  for just one example of many. Other melodies include "Black Codes from the Underground", "In a Sentimental Mood", "I'll Remember April", "Evidence", and a rousing "Majesty of the Blues" and special trumpet solo for "Buddy Bolden."

Perhaps this is not an earth-shaking CD, but it is a terrific snapshot of a wonderful band playing some classic jazz in an iconic setting. To me it is a document worth having and enjoying.

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