These ballets, each lasting a few minutes over half an hour, are mostly written-out compositions with jazz rhythm sections and jazz inflections from the players. As in much of Marsalis' writing in the '90s, he reaches back to several pre-bop classic jazz styles to form a synthesis of his own, with the wailing mark of Ellington ever-present in the voicings and harmonies. Jazz: 6 1/2 Syncopated Movements is a tightly arranged series of episodes that stalk across the jazz landscape from ragtime to dissonance, sometimes so tightly that it begins to resemble cartoon music. One of the more striking sections is "Trail of Tears," which has subtly smeared harmonies and horse-laughing from the muted brasses, and "Express Crossing" is right in the mold of Ellington's "Daybreak Express," with a nice breakneck muted solo for Marsalis. Though burdened with a typically pompous title, Jump Start -- The Mastery of Melancholy is actually the less pretentious ballet of the two, a suite of ten brief, disconnected big-band pieces in different idioms where the jazz elements come through with more freedom for the rhythm section and the soloists. This work hits its stride only toward the close with "Bebop" for small group (where Marsalis burns as he did in his extreme youth) and Harry "Sweets" Edison's delicious cameo on "Jump." Heavily staffed by members of Marsalis' late septet, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra plays both works in precise, crisp fashion, with Marsalis conducting Jump Start and playing lead and section trumpet in both ballets.
AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell