Wednesday, October 12, 2011
WYNTON MARSALIS – SWINGIN’ INTO THE 21st
A Fiddler’s Tale (released March 1999)
Standard Time, Vol. 4: Marsalis Plays Monk (April 1999)
At The Octoroon Balls: A Fiddler’s Tale suite (June 1999)
Big Train (July 1999)
Sweet Release & Ghost Story (August 1999)
Standard Time, Vol. 6 – Mr. Jelly Lord (September 1999)
Reeltime (November 1999)
Selections From The Village Vanguard Box (March 2000);
The Marciac Suite (August 2000);
All Rise (October 2002).
A Fiddler’s Tale: This two-part suite is based on 20th century classical composer Igor Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat, which Wynton confesses, "I have loved since first hearing it as a 15 year old." Where Stravinsky's soldier sold his soul, Wynton re-casts the main character as a young violinist who sells her soul (to a record company!). Wynton's story line is scripted by the eminent Stanley Crouch, and narrated by the multi-talented Andre De Shields. To create the same small ensemble as Stravinsky, Wynton employs members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (which included Edgar Meyer and Stefon Harris back in 1998, when this was recorded). Says Wynton: "This composition demonstrates the kinship between Stravinsky's harmonic and rhythmic language and the language of modern jazz with a New Orleans accent."
Standard Time, Vol. 4: Marsalis Plays Monk: The fourth entry in Wynton's popular Standard Time series is a straight-ahead tribute to jazz pianist-composer Thelonious Monk. It was recorded in sessions with Wynton's [now all-star] septet lineups of 1993-94 (see below), with whom he had toured "all over the world." To his credit, he does not cover 'Monk's greatest hits,' but instead delves deeper into his repertoire. "A good example," Wynton notes, "is 'Evidence,' which uses the syncopation of broken silences to feature the always inventive [drummer] Herlin Riley."
At The Octoroon Balls – A Fiddler’s Tale Suite: As described, Wynton's first composition for string quartet, At The Octoroon Balls, recorded in 1998 by the "fabulous" Orion String Quartet, "explores the American Creole contradictions and compromises – cultural, social, and political – exemplified by life in New Orleans." The liner notes essay by Leon Wieseltier (literary editor of the New Republic) elaborates: "The balls that give their name to these stringent, voluptuous movements were institutions of old New Orleans, at which Creole men chose Octoroon women for their mistresses – vivacious rituals of mixture, in which the terribilities of race collided jubilantly with the terribilities of sex." At The Octoroon Balls shares this CD with the instrumental (no narrations) version of A Fiddler's Tale, recorded at the same sessions as the full-length version above.
Big Train: It's no secret that Wynton hates flying, and would rather hop a train like all the great bandleaders used to – Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and the big Trane, John Coltrane, that is. Wynton composed and recorded this collection in 1998 for his son Jasper who was living in Los Angeles at the time, while Wynton lived in New York. As the wyntonmarsalis.org website notes, "spiritual engineers and conductors, Wynton and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra invite you to join their gang of rail riders on a journey that crisscrosses the landscape of America transported by its greatest art form, jazz."
Sweet Release & Ghost Story: Here are scores for two ballets from "totally different choreographers." Sweet Release was composed for Judith Jamison with the world famous Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and was recorded at Tarrytown (NY) Music Hall in 1996 with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, among whose members are Wynton's septet mates. It tells the story "of a man and a woman, represented by the trombone and trumpet, and the temptations that threaten their romance." Ghost Story was commissioned for Zhongmei Li's (then) newly established dance company, who wanted a more spare, minimalist work. It was recorded in 1998 at Lincoln Center's Rose Studio by a hand-picked quintet who, as Stanley Crouch's liner notes affirm, "aptly describe a protean ghost, a fore of trickery and an agent of the heartbreak that from having been duped all the way to the bottom of the bucket of the blues."
Standard Time, Vol. 6 – Mr. Jelly Lord: Similar to Standard Time, Vol. 4 (above), this is a straight-ahead tribute to the songs and wit of Jelly Roll Morton, beloved icon to the New Orleans-raised (or influenced) cats in Wynton's inner circle. The genesis was a concert Wynton played at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 1989; this album has the distinction of being the first in the box set actually recorded in 1999 (January). Wynton brought a handful of New Orleans veterans to join his quintet for the sessions – Lucien Barbarin, Michael White, Donald Vappie, and check out Harry Connick, Jr. on "Billy Goat Stomp"! The closing "Tom Cat Blues" was actually recorded on century-old equipment at New Jersey's Thomas Edison Laboratories, a National Historic Site.
Reeltime: "In essence," Wynton says, "what many writers have discovered is that when you look closely at a small town, you will see the human species at its best and brightest and darkest and lowest." The ever-observant Wynton applied his talent to the Rosewood massacre of 1923, when a primarily black Florida town was razed to the ground by white racists bent on lynching. At least six blacks were killed and their town was abandoned and forgotten until the 1980s, leading to state reparations and the 1997 film by John Singleton. Wynton's evocative score, recorded in 1996, includes bluesy vocals by Cassandra Wilson on the title track, a gospel choir fronted by Shirley Caesar, bluegrass fiddling by virtuoso violinist Mark O'Connor, a taste of Claude Williams' New Orleans fiddle, the cool jazz of Miles & Gil, and much more. The score was not used for the film, but fortunately was preserved as an important entry in Wynton's discography.
Selections From The Village Vanguard Box: The '90s proved that there was a vigorous jazz market for multi-disc anthologies devoted to one artist, especially live material. Released December 1999, Wynton's 7-CD box set Live at the Village Vanguard might have been sub-titled A Week at the Village Vanguard because of its CD sequencing. That is, Monday on CD 1, Tuesday on CD 2, and so on. In fact, it melded material recorded by three Septet lineups at sold-out gigs in the jazz club during 1990-94, so that each CD was a multi-year entity unto itself. In March 2000, this single-CD compilation captured the seven-night feel, and became the first of the year 2000 releases in the "Swinging into the 21st!" campaign.
The Marciac Suite: Wynton's Septet was an established presence at the annual summer jazz festival in the beautiful medieval town of Marciac, France, long before he decided to record this tribute. Like he showed on the Rosewood score, Wynton is expert at capturing the essences of small town life, the characters and situations, flavors and aromas that make it special. With colorful titles like "Jean-Louis Is Everywhere,' "Mademoiselle D'ascony," "Armagnac Dreams," "Marciac Moon," "D'Artagnan," "Guy Lafitte," and "B Is For Boussaget (and Bass)," you can practically inhale the fragrance of Marciac. Recorded in February, this was the second of the "Swingin'" projects to actually be recorded in 1999, after Standard Time, Vol. 6 (above); and the second of only two albums to be released by Wynton in 2000 (after Selections From The Village Vanguard Box, above).
All Rise: It's all here in Wynton's penultimate masterwork, and his swan song at Columbia Records. Echoes of Ellington, Mingus, Stravinsky, and Copland inform the piece, profoundly American in its scope, from blues and gospel to New Orleans and New York. The 2-CD, 106-minute opus spreads over 12 tracks, 12 movements that emulate the 12-bar blues. It is an extraordinary work on the scale of Wynton's Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio of 1997, Blood On The Fields. The grandeur of All Rise is best introduced by Wynton's own massive 4,200-word annotation and Stanley Crouch's 1,100-word liner notes essay. Historically, All Rise was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and premiered at Lincoln Center in December 1999. Almost two years later, it was set to be performed at the Hollywood Bowl on September 14, 2001, by Wynton, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting, and three choirs totaling 100 voices. The events of 9/11 turned All Rise's performance and recording that week into a national elegy.