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Wynton Marsalis and The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: Big Train

C. Michael Bailey By

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All Aboard. In keeping with the Duke Ellington precedence, Wynton Marsalis has been composing longer and longer jazz pieces, music that approximates suites. Starting with The Majesty of the Blues (Columbia, 1989) and proceeding through Blue Interlude (Columbia, 1992), Citi Movement (Columbia, 1993), In This House, On This Morning (Columbia, 1994), Jump Start and Jazz (Columbia, 1997), and the Pulitzer Prize winning Blood on the Fields (Columbia 1997). Add to this list Big Train. Big Train is perhaps Marsalis most cogent and consistent composition in the suite genre. It is precisely composed and performed.

Happy Go Lucky Special. The overwhelming influence here is Ellington. The rhythm of this disc is saturated with his unique saxophone express. What Marsalis brings to the mix is a more judicious use of space and the rhythm section. Ellington may never have written a note that was not necessary, but his compositions are busy pieces, even if blindingly brilliant. Marsalis, through the LCJO's rhythm section sets up an easy rhythm, sometimes chugging, sometimes walking, always propelling forward. If you find that hard to believe, compare "Union Pacific Big Boy,"Northbound-Southbound," and "Engine."

But Ellington is not the only influence. "Smokestack Shuffle" is as much a Thelonious Monk piece as is "Friday the 13th." This disc is also quite instrument specific. As typical of a Marsalis composition, the listener is drowning in plunger-muted brass. Always a fan of the clarinet, Marsalis has written a good deal of clarinet into this piece with all of his reed players contributing on clarinet. This is a fun ride.

The Big Train Reprise. Big Train is the fourth installment in the eight volume Swinging into the 21st Century set. It continues the provocatively creative trend that Marsalis has begun with the release of his Standards Volume 5 collection of Monk tunes. Marsalis is (not so) quietly creating a body of work within traditional jazz that should endure the future nicely.

Track Listing: All Aboard; Observation CarUnion Pacific Big Boy; Smokestack Shuffle; Northbound-Southbound; Dining Car; Night Train; Engine; Bullet Train; Sleeper Car; Station Call; Caboose.

Personnel: Wynton Marsalis: Trumpet and Director; Seneca Black: Trumpet; Ryan Kisor: Trumpet; Marcus Printup: Trumpet; Riley Mullins: Trumpet; Wayne Goodman: Trombone; Wycliffe Gordon: Trombone, Tuba; Ronald Westray: Trombone; Wessell Anderson: Alto and Sopranino Saxophone, Clarinet; Ted Nash: Alto and Soprano Saxophones, Piccolo, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Flute; Walter Blanding, Jr.: Tenor, Alto, and Soprano Saxophones, Clarinet; Victor Goines: Tenor, Alto, and Soprano Saxophones, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet; Joe Temperley: Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Soprano Saxophone; Farid Barron: Piano; Rodney Whitaker: Bass; Herlin Riley: Drums; Roland Guerrero: Percussion; Doug Wamble: Guitar and Banjo.

Title: Big Train | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Columbia Records


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