Wynton Marsalis

Sweet Release and Ghost Story

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The fifth in Wynton Marsalis's avalanche of eight releases in 1999 was another pairing of ballets, again issued on Sony Classical rather than Columbia. Sweet Release is easily the more ingratiating of the two - obviously, even slavishly, modeled on the harmonic gospel of Duke Ellington but sassy and swinging just the same. Apparently, it's supposed to represent the course of a man-woman courtship, moving from home to the church to the street and back home again. Wynton indulges in a trumpet paraphrase of the clarinet opening of "Rhapsody In Blue" to start, and in the finale, he shows that he has absorbed the relaxed, elegant feeling of Duke's "Sugar Hill Penthouse" from Black, Brown and Beige. There is even an intricate outbreak of salsa that takes place at a party in a church basement (must be a Spanish Harlem church). The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra plays it crisply and Wynton's outstanding trumpet is heard frequently - most engagingly in a fun plunger mute duel with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon. But Ghost Story is mostly a bore, launched by a dull, New Age-like introduction for wandering solo piano that seems to go on forever and concluded by the same, only mercifully shorter. In between, the quartet of Ted Nash (reeds), Eric Lewis (piano, Carlito Henriquez (bass) and Jaz Sawyer (drums) sounds reined in by Marsalis's labored writing, unable to stretch out. Marsalis even tries to pull off a tango, with limited success. This ambitious, over-prolific, still-developing composer desperately needs a good editor.

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