Wynton Marsalis is well known for his role as a jazz ambassador and preservationist – and by Marsalis’ own personal definition ‘jazz’ is much more than a slick genre easily sub-divided into categories such as ‘smooth’ or ‘experimental’ in a record store; instead, he sees jazz as something almost mystical and reverential; something that happens when like-minded musicians get together. In Marsalis' musical world, jazz is an artistic creation and becomes the ideal vehicle for sharing an experience or statement.
That’s probably a perilously scant introduction to Wynton Marsalis’ latest release He and She a record so diverse and so all encompassing, it’s intimidating to even try and review it. On this release, Marsalis presents a sweeping panoramic opus of the male-female relationship – and indeed life itself – since he covers the gamut from childhood firsts to The First Time. The tracks are as different as they could possibly be, just like the events that they portray and as a result there is swing, experimental jazziness, the blues and even a Latin tempo at times all ably supplied by Walter Blanding tenor and soprano saxophones, Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriques on bass, Ali Jackson on drums and of course Marsalis himself providing celestial trumpet.
Wynton Marsalis has also inserted his own short poetry compositions between the tracks on He and She. This is quite a courageous artistic risk since it’s something that listeners will either love or hate, in my opinion. The poems are read by Marsalis himself and although some of this is pretty full-on sentimentalism – he’s so charismatic and transparently sincere that he pulls it off without a whiff of fromage. His reading is downhome and earthy, his words accessible yet vivid. The poetry itself is also rather interesting and like all good poetry, does improve with subsequent re-visits. Which is, I am sure, what he had in mind because Wynton Marsalis is a brilliant man. Here’s a brief sample but you should promise to hear it in context with the song it prefaces:
A man forgets what
the boy knew
‘Til you halted an awkward
silly grownup games and
with the devastating
presentness of “yes”.
Key tracks if you must sample only a few:
School Boy is a catchy, jaunty swing number which captures that carefree optimism of the young. Marsalis’ trumpet is confident, swaggering when necessary and I love the bass work here as well at its finger-wagging, Cab Calloway best; basically, there’s a sense that the whole number has been handpicked from another more golden era although in reality, the entire album was composed by Marsalis himself. Love this track.
The First Time is a fast paced shuddering, salsa saturated piece that builds from a series of runs to a smoldering conclusion that occurs up in the air. Excellent and a perfect showcase for the quintet too.
A Train, A Banjo and A Chicken Wing
Yes, you read correctly. This is a truly inspired, cheeky track. From the slow, sexy locomotive build-up supplied in the beginning to the squawking, egg-bound anguish at the end, this track is pure genius. The whole album is a must-listen and should be included in schools everywhere in my opinion …