Wynton Marsalis Septet

Blue Interlude

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With Wynton Marsalis, exuberance, energy and high-level musicianship is never an issue, but long-windedness can be. This may be one of the best of the trumpeter's mid-sized ensembles, a septet, with pianist Marcus Roberts, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, saxophonists Wessell Anderson and Todd Williams, bassist Reginald Veal, and drummer Herlin Riley. It is also to the credit of Marsalis that he allows solid group interplay, and much room for his sidemen to not only stretch, but to also include their written works in the repertoire. The problem is for the listener, as the bulk of this material lays in long form, and is more a test for the band's stamina than the pleasure of the beholder. It works in concert, but not on the radio or at home. The 37-plus-minute title track, a grandiose treatise on bittersweet romance, is the most egregious with lengthy solos, tight but verbose ensemble sections, up-and-down dynamics, and rhythmic variations. "The Jubilee Suite" is only 12 minutes, and much more concise, echoing anthemic clarion calls, a hip modern New Orleans groove, and features for the clarinet of Williams and Marsalis. "And the Band Played On" is a processional march, and "Brother Veal" exudes a warm feeling marinated in easy swing, with the clarinet of Williams again a focal point. The last piece, "Sometimes It Goes Like That," is the most complex melody, using the typical variable tempo and melodic devices that make a Marsalis jazz tune fairly recognizable. The cover art and title might indicate this was a blue interlude in the personal life of Marsalis translated into music (and words on the indulgent "Monologue" prelude to the title cut) and self-consciously rendered. It's fine music, but not particularly unique or original.

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