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Wynton Marsalis: A Fiddler's Tale / At the Octoroon Balls

C. Michael Bailey By

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Wynton Marsalis: A Fiddler's Tale / At the Octoroon Balls Yes, indeed!. Wynton Marsalis's series Swinging Into the 21st Century series is shaping up to be a most significant body of music. Initiated with his volume 4 collection of standards, Marsalis Plays Monk (Columbia, 1998), Marsalis continues his ambitious series with an American adaptation of Igor Stravinsky's L'Historie du soldat (A Soldier's Tale). The text was effectively (though sometimes with his characteristic excess) reinterpreted by Stanley Crouch and is a Mississippi Delta meets Robert "Dr. Faust" Johnson morality tale with superb chamber accompaniment by Marsalis and musicians from the Chamber society of the Lincoln Center, lead by David Schifrin. André De Shields narrates the piece with great aplomb and grace.

The music of A Fiddlers Tale is transcendent, not so much a melting pot as a fine traditional meal prepared from an old recipe with new ingredients. Though an over simplification, this is a Klezmer ensemble strained through an amalgam of the classical and jazz traditions. Milan Turkovic's bassoon is a stand out both in performance and in the liner notes which he wrote. As for Maestro Marsalis, kudos to him. He is blazing a trial and all should be proud for him.

At The Octoroon Balls. In Creole tradition, balls were held for Creole men to choose their Octoroon (one-eight Negro) mistresses. This is a most perfect title for Marsalis' iconoclastic string quartet which encompasses all of American music in its seven movements. This is much in keeping with the tradition of Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Charles Ives, using pieces of Americana in their compositions. At The Octoroon Balls is more Ives than Louis Armstrong, but it is all there: fiddle reels, hoe downs, jug stomps, marching bands; the Deep South, New Orleans, the Piedmont East Coast, Sunday morning at church.

The piece is performed by the Orion String Quartet. Or I should say that the piece has its own momentum, performing itself: Jung's American Archetype. Marsalis' String Quartet Number 1 is coupled with a suite reduction of the above mentioned A Fiddlers Tale. Together, these compositions are important for their mostly successful crossing of style and genre lines. Should Marsalis have his way, it will all be music with no defining parameters.


Track Listing: At the Octoroon Balls (String Quartet No 1): Come Long Fiddler; Mating Calls & Delta Rhythms; Creole Contradanzas; Many Gone; Hellbound Highball; Blue Lights on the BayouRampart St. Row House Rag. Fiddler's Tale Suite: The Fiddler's March; A Fiddler's Soul; Pastorale; Happy March; Concert Piece; Tango. Waltz, Ragtime; The Devil's Dance; Big Chorale; The Blues on Top.

Personnel: The Orion String Quartet; Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Columbia Records


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