In this tribute to Jelly Roll Morton, at last there is a large sampling of the Wynton Marsalis who can get large crowds at outdoor jazz festivals like the Playboy at Hollywood Bowl to dance and wave white handkerchiefs. This is mostly gutbucket, stomping, swinging New Orleans jazz through the eyes and ears of avid students of old records -- and they have absorbed a good deal of the original raffish, joyous feeling. Dedicated scholars as they are, the band even recreates the original zany dialogue that opens Morton's recordings of "Dead Man Blues" and "Sidewalk Blues" (with a small alteration in the latter for PC purposes), leading to swaggering performances of both. Marsalis by now is an absolute virtuoso of the plunger mute, and he gets ample room to growl and snarl, often alongside trombonist/co-arranger Wycliffe Gordon. Without the mute, he is often majestically commanding, totally in his element. As befitting the contrapuntal New Orleans ethos, Wynton is also generous with the spotlight, turning over an entire track to Danilo Perez's lurching solo piano rendition of "Mamanita," another to the thick-toned period clarinet of performing musicologist Michael White on "Big Lip Blues," and another, alas, to Harry Connick, Jr.'s ham-handed solo treatment of "Billy Goat Stomp." The most startling performance -- authenticity taken to its extreme -- comes at the end as Wynton and pianist Eric Reed wander into Thomas Edison Laboratories (circa 1993) to record a cylinder of "Tom Cat Blues" with vintage acoustical equipment. The results are often hilarious, and certainly instructive (try this out as a blindfold test on friends who think that they don't make jazz records like they used to).
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AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell