Wynton Marsalis is a conundrum. He has won Grammys for both jazz and classical recordings; as a composer, his work shows the influence of Stravinsky and Copland, Gershwin and Ellington; and he's a trumpeter who, as a youth, mastered the styles of Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis. But now he seems to want to present himself as a simple boy from New Orleans whose tastes don't go beyond the music of more than half a century ago.
If anyone in the club, where it was standing room only, hadn't heard Marsalis before, they would have been forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about. Isn't this the most famous and influential jazz musician in the world, they may have asked themselves. Well, yes, but I'm not sure he would have achieved that position if he had started his career playing the music he now chooses to perform with his quintet.
The compositions - straightforward, mildly swinging affairs just a notch above the bland - were from his 2004 album, The Magic Hour. Marsalis's friend and mentor, Stanley Crouch, described the disc as "a jazz party record", but on the evidence of both the album and the set at Ronnie's, I'd say that Marsalis and Crouch must be content with pretty tame parties.
There was solid support from Willie Jones on drums and Carlos Henriquez on bass, but one couldn't help feeling that their leader was holding them back. It was notable that the warmest applause came after the solos of the alto saxophonist Wess Anderson and pianist Dan Nimmer. If the reaction to Wynton's solos was muted, it was perhaps because they were all extremely short, and in none of them did he develop a phrase or an extended idea beyond one chorus at most.
The leader had a good rapport with the audience, whom he told about a recent operation on his lip. Recovery from this would be the most charitable explanation for why the cool fire and the devastatingly accurate attack of his early years was absent from Marsalis's performance.
If he wants to go backwards stylistically to the older, looser sound of pre-war New Orleans, that's his choice. But he'll have to work harder to rouse his audience. The crowd was so willing to be thrilled, but that wasn't enough. The numbers were perfect, sterile period pieces, and nothing more.Reuse content