25 January 2009

Listening Diary: Live at the Village Vanguard, Wynton Marsalis Septet

Jazz-ophiles will probably lament (and perhaps ridicule) this being my first discussion of a jazz record. Yes, there are so many 'better' records, so many more classics and undiscovered gems. Fortunately for me, this is a space for writing about music I'm currently listening to, and that is not always the gold standard/Penguin rosette/Gramaphone award winning stuff.

The objection from real jazz eggspurts will be in part because Marsalis is one of those divisive figures in jazz. He is generally seen as a traditionalist for whom the blues and swing are essential ingredients of jazz. I don't necessarily subscribe to this view, but I do find myself listening more to Monk, Miles Davis and Red Garland more than, say, David S. Ware. Luckily for me, I am not an academic or expert and don't have to apologize for a love of melody. Marsalis does seem to be a strong believer in trad, but I don't see how that stops the avant-garde from functioning. Jazz itself is (and has always been) bigger than all of its practitioners.

As far as the music here, there's a lot to enjoy. Live recordings, whatever their problems, are perhaps the most revealing of a performer's ideas at any point in time. Besides, they're generally great fun to listen to. Marsalis and his Septet (there are a few different line-ups) lead the listener through a fictional week's worth of performances at the (ahem) cozy environs of the
legendary NYC club. Yes, there are weak moments here and there. Yes, Marsalis seems to have an Ellington complex. Yes, there is some indulgence and at least one hour-long piece. But, by and large, this is amazing playing from a group of solid musicians. The club environment is intimate and the feel throughout is relaxed and yet swings with the best. Ignore the poo-pooing of the few 1-2 star reviews on Amazon and pick this up. I don't see how you could possibly regret spending $25 for seven cds that capture such great musicians at a high point.

ps: There is a single-disc highlights version of these concerts, but I don't see how it could do justice to the box. If you see it used and for sale for a few bucks it will possibly give you an idea of the sound of the complete box, but then you'll have wasted your precious dough: after you hear one disc you'll want to hear all of them.

(link to a review and the following info from allaboutjazz.com):

Band 1 — Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Wessell Anderson, alto saxophone; Todd Williams, tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; Marcus Roberts, piano; Reginald Veal, bass; Herlin Riley, drums. Band 2 — Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Wessell Anderson, alto and sopranino saxophones; Victor Goines, tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; Eric Reed, piano; Reginald Veal, bass; Herlin Riley, drums. Band 3 — Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Wessell Anderson, alto saxophone; Victor Goines, tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; Eric Reed, piano; Ben Wolfe, bass; Herlin Riley, drums. tracks: Disc 1 — Welcome; Cherokee; The Egyptian Blues; Embraceable You; Black Codes from the Underground; Harriet Tubman; Monk’s Mood; And the Band Played On; The Cat in the Hat is Back; Set Break. Disc 2 — Welcome #2; Uptown Ruler; Down Home with Homey; Reflections; Jig’s Jig; Sometimes It Goes Like That; In A Sentimental Mood; Knozz-moe-king; Set Break. Disc 3 — Welcome #3; Buggy Ride; I’ll Remember April; Stardust; In the Court of King Oliver; Bona & Paul; Four In One; Way Back Blues; Rubber Bottom; Midnight In Paris; Play the Blues and Go; Set Break. Disc 4 — Welcome #4; Pedro’s Getaway; Evidence; Embraceable You; A Long Way; The Arrival; Misterioso; Happy Birthday; The Seductress; Set Break. Disc 5 — Welcome #5; The Majesty of the Blues; Flee as a Bird to the Mountain; Happy Feet Blues; Thelonius; Stardust; Intro to Buddy Bolden; Buddy Bolden; Swing Down Swing Town; Bright Mississippi; Set Break. Disc 6 — Welcome #6; Citi Movement; Winter Wonderland; Brother Veal; Cherokee; Juba and A O’Brown Squaw. Disc 7 — Welcome #7; In the Sweet Embrace of Life; Local Announcements; After All; Final Statement.

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