Wynton Marsalis

The Marciac Suite

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The eighth installment in Marsalis' exhaustive series of 1999 releases, this disc was originally offered as a freebie in the mail only if you bought the previous seven, and it didn't appear in the shops on its own until 2000. It was a strange marketing scheme, and one that unnecessarily muted the fanfare for the most artistically successful of Marsalis' original works in his 1999 series. Marciac, a small town in France, hosts an internationally renowned jazz festival and even erected a statue of Marsalis, which moved the composer/trumpeter to conceive this 76-minute suite for his favorite septet lineup. For personnel, Marsalis draws from his usual stable -- Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), Wessell Anderson (alto sax), Victor Goines (tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet), Rodney Whitaker (bass), Herlin Riley (drums), Roland Guerrero (percussion), and a tag team of pianists -- with his own effortlessly fluent trumpet reverting to the neo-bop style of his early recordings. There are no programmatic pretensions ("Big Train"), no PC pronouncements about slavery ("Blood on the Fields"), no overt homages to Ellington, Monk, or Morton -- just Marsalis sounding mostly happy, buoyant, and, in the musical portraits of his friends, even warm-hearted, hugely enjoying himself as a composer. The sunny atmosphere is quickly established in the first loosely swinging number, "Loose Duck," and though the music is often difficult, encompassing all 12 keys, the musicians seem to scale the hurdles without an audible care. Best of all is the finale, "Sunflowers," a long, carefree, handclapping number with a jaunty repeated bassline. If Marsalis' entire Swinging Into the 21st series can be considered an eight-course meal, this is the tasty dessert.

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