Wynton Marsalis appears to be going through life as if he is double-parked.
Every time I turn around he has a new, and very successful, release on the market. "Standard Time Volume 2" and "Volume 3" have been at the top of the Billboard traditional jazz charts. This month he is touring Venezuela, Brazil, Chile and Argentina. Next month he will be playing in 11 European countries. Recently I saw him on PBS extolling the abilities of young trumpeter Roy Hargrove. And during the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon on Labor Day who appeared with horn in hand? Yep, Wynton Marsalis. Maybe he has been cloned.Despite the hectic demands, Marsalis has found time to provide us with the most exciting, exceptional release of the year. It is the three-volume "Soul Gestures in Southern Blue," a trilogy that reflects Marsalis' rich New Orleans roots. The first album is "Thick in the South" (Columbia CD CK 47977), which features the tenor play of the venerable Joe Henderson, who teams with veteran drummer Elvin Jones for a memorable cut called "Elveen."
The second album is "Uptown Ruler" (Columbia CD CK 47976), the Ruler, according to Marsalis, being a mythical hero from New Orleans who is "accepted without question in the houses of worship, institutions of higher discourse and intellectual engagement, as well as places of ill repute and lower levels of social intercourse. The Ruler's persona is obviously multifaceted," as is this album. Tod Williams replaces Henderson on tenor.
The third volume is "Levee Low Moan" (Columbia CD CK 47975) and the group becomes a sextet as Wessell Anderson and his alto sax gets on board. Marcus Roberts is featured on all three albums, while Reginald Veal on bass and drummer Herlin Riley are on the final two.
Marsalis supplies his professional explanation of each cut on all three albums, but no interpretation is crucial. Just listen and enjoy.
Here are several other albums that might deserve a listen.
- Capitol Records has reissued two Stan Kenton classics, "Cuban Fire" (Capitol CD CDP 7 96260 2), which happens to be the first jazz album I ever bought, and "Road Show" (Capitol CDP 7 96328 2), featuring June Christy and the Four Freshman in an October 1959 live performance at Purdue University. Each CD has added several cuts that were absent from the original LPs, adding to the overall enjoyment. Kenton shares the kudos on "Cuban Fire" with arranger Johnny Richards, who soon after became a leader of his own orchestra. Throughout the years Kenton as been described as being predictable, pretentious and ponderous by some curmudgeons, but his excitement and innovations are part of jazz history.
- "Terrence Blanchard" (Columbia CD CK 47354) features another dazzling young trumpet player from New Orleans. Tenors Bradford Marsalis and San Newsome appear on three cuts apiece to support Blanchard, who gives credit to Art Blakey for his development.
- Guitarist Bruce Forman, receiving excellent backing from bassist John Clayton Jr. (who arranged the much-acclaimed "The Star Spangled Banner" for Whitney Houston) and drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath, has an impressive debut for Kamei Recordings with "Still of the Night" (Kamei CD KR 7000), which is a nice blend of six standards and three originals.
- Mellow describes Gary Dial's "Never Is Now" (Continuum CD 19102), a dandy easy-listening album. Dial's piano suggests a Bill Evans influence, and Jay Anderson on bass and drummer Joey Baron, especially on brushes, make this album a sleeper. Twelve of the 13 cuts were written by Dial, who was an integral part of the Rodney and Ira Sullivan quintet.
- For a change of pace, try "Travelin' Light" (Telarc CD 80281) featuring Sam Pilafian on tuba. Yes, tuba. Sam played with the Empire Brass before going on his own. He spent his formative years in Miami, a city not usually associated with Dixieland, but that's what we get here, and after 50 minutes that's enough. His partners present a mixed bag: 27-year-old guitarist Frank Vignola claims his major influence was the legendary Django Reinhardt, who has been dead almost 40 years; Mark Shane's bio claims he plays "classic jazz piano," but he has to be satisfied with honky-tonk on this outing; and Jimmy George, who plays rhythm guitar on six cuts, used to back up Dion and the Belmonts in the early '60s.
- If you are in the mood for Spanish guitar, try Erich Avinger's "Si" (Heart Music CD HMEA 002), which is a lively effort, particularly when soprano saxman Tony Pampise joins the roster for the title song and "New Mexico."