Wynton Marsalis - From The Plantation To The Penitentiary

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Blue Note 09463 847 2421    ****

Marsalis (t, v), Jennifer Sanon (v), Walter Blanding (ts, ss), Dan Nimmer (p),
Carlos Henriquez (b) and Ali Jackson (d). Rec. 2006
Wynton Marsalis - From The Plantation To The Penitentiary
While 1985’s Black Codes and 1997’s Blood On The Fields saw the trumpeter assess the past of race relations and politics in America, this latest offering is very much concerned with its present. ‘Doin [Y]Our Thing’, ‘Where Y’All At?’ and above all ‘Supercapitalism’ are as explicit a wake-up call to modern America and western society as one could imagine with misogyny in hip-hop, the plantation-ghetto continuum and the disastrous foreign policy of the Bush administration all coming under heavy lyrical fire. Marsalis, the writer of words, has equal billing with Marsalis the player of notes.

Yet this album would be nothing without a singer capable of giving the leader’s texts an appropriately vivid rendition and in 21 year-old Jennifer Sanon, the trumpeter, who plays beautifully throughout, has found a vocalist of quite remarkable stature and maturity. Her low, seasoned tone and fluid yet authoritative delivery perfectly suit arrangements that have sombre, plaintive chord progressions and bold shifts in tempo and meter. Although the lexicon of this music flows logically from past albums such as Thick In The South, Blood On The Fields and Black Codes, there is a possibly a greater impact made here, primarily because an orchestral sweep is attained by a small group. With that in mind, From The Plantation is a subtle distillation of the above, a form of sophisticated post-modern soul jazz in which the human voice stands as a potent equal to a horn and rhythm section of great character.

In fact the Jackson-Henriquez chassis is as crucial to Marsalis’ musical vehicle as the Riley-Veal chassis was a decade ago and the way these players negotiate a range of afro-Cuban and Caribbean rhythms deployed with much more ambition than in standard Latin jazz, is superb. The net result is an album blending beauty and anger, darkness and light, accessibility and intricacy to be possibly the best record Wynton Marsalis has made since the luminous Black Codes.

Kevin Le Gendre

This review is taken from Jazzwise Issue 107 - to read our complete review  section of jazz and beyond  subscribe here