Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis' soundtrack to Ken Burns' documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson is a compelling and rootsy mix of blues and swing. Having worked with Burns on the PBS "Jazz" series, Marsalis' Unforgivable Blackness soundtrack seems like a natural progression of a fruitful partnership. Not dissimilar to such past Marsalis projects as the Jelly Roll Morton album Mr. Jelly Lord, the album features Marsalis in various small-group settings along with such longtime Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra regulars as drummer Herlin Riley, pianist Eric Lewis, saxophonist Wessell Anderson, bassist Reginald Veal, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, and others, including guitarist Doug Wamble, who adds his unique blend of old-time blues, folk, and jazz to Marsalis' own signature updating of '20s and '30s jazz. Although four previously released tracks appear here, two off Standard Time, Vol. 6: Mr. Jelly Lord and two from Marsalis' Reeltime, the majority of the album is newly recorded and all of it sounds of a piece. Ironically, Marsalis' deepest musical influence and aesthetic nemesis, trumpeter Miles Davis, also recorded an album for a film about the troubled boxing champ Johnson, 1970's fusion classic Tribute to Jack Johnson. However, where Davis' album seemed to reflect the counterculture and Black Power movements of the time, Marsalis is more traditionally cinematic in his approach, with each track evoking the pride, urbanity, strength, and tragedy of the legendary Johnson.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar