Wynton Marsalis - Selections From the Village Vanguard Box

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From Jazziz

Setting out to document a bandleader's and ensemble's transitions during a four- and-a-half-year period between 1990 and 1994 is a monumental task, especially if the backdrop is the hallowed Village Vanguard. And at seven CDs that total more than eight and a half hours with three varying groups, it could seem a supreme act of self-indulgence. But trumpeter Wynton Marsalis pulls it off, even if it is largely a hard-hat-and-lunch-bucket-type listening session. Or for those with less free time, it's a librarian's exercise in cataloging because each set mixes and matches ensembles without much regard to chronological order. Yet there's a smoothness, elegance, diversity of emotions and dynamics, and swing to the entire proceedings that makes it seamless and enjoyable from beginning to end and never redundant or overwhelming. Spiked with some of Marsalis' corny and cutesy humor, Live at the Village Vanguard covers an immense amount of musical territory from spirituals and field hollers to elements of what some neo-traditionalists have derisevly refered to as the avant-garde. Pieces like 'A Long Way' and 'Egyptian Blues' as easily evoke, say, Cannonball Adderley as they do Julius Hemphill and Arthur Blythe in their sinuous rhythms. The sumptuous re-creations of Ellington on tracks like 'Rubber Bottom,' the spiky version of Monk's 'Evidence,' or the second-line marches, stomps, and chants of tracks like 'Uptown Ruler,' and the jaunty stroll of 'Down Home With Homey' exhibit not only a deep knowledge of, but an organic connection to, the vocabulary of the entire African American musical vernacular. Though not successfully emulated by many of his peers and followers, Marsalis has at least paved the way for a redefinition of the modern jazz vocabulary with his small ensembles. Perhaps most telling are some of the longer cuts such as 'Citi Movement' that hurtle, honk, and snarl with both urbane grace and menace. Or perhaps 'The Sweet Embrace of Life,' which weaves, wobbles, and even boogies into full-out, take-you-to-church shout choruses. Studded throughout these recordings are countless sounds and solos, enigmatic and daring rhythmic changes, odd harmonies and melodic variations. So even if an indulgence, this box provides much that's superb. - Don Palmer, JAZZIZ Magazine Copyright © 2000, Milor Entertainment, Inc.