The expansive discography of Wynton Marsalis has covered a wealth of material including the fierce modern mainstream of Black Codes: From the Underground
(Columbia, 1985), the three CD-set Blood On the Fields
(Columbia, 1995) which won a Pulitzer award in 1997, and some bar-room fun in Two Men With the Blues
(Blue Note, 2008) with singer Willie Nelson. Now the iconic jazz trumpeter/composer explores the subtle dynamics of relationship between a man and a woman in He and She
, a recording that combines jazz and poetry in a familiar and entertaining package.
Familiar in the fact that Marsalis, an ardent purveyor of jazz's history, delivers once again, music that has been heard throughout his repertoire. The jubilant "School Boy" with its ragtime / New Orleans rhythms, the luxuriant waltz of "The Sun and the Moon," playful swing in "Sassy," and a blues in "A Train, A Banjo, and A Chicken Wing," have all been witnessed in memorable recordings such as The Marciac Suite
(1999) and Big Train
(1999), both on Columbia Records.
Regardless, this project is vintage Marsalis, and that equates to exquisitely crafted jazz, now delivered by a top-notch quintet of young musicians including Walter Blanding (saxophones), Dan Nimmer (piano), Carlos Hendriquez (bass), and Ali Jackson (drums), each showing their dazzling abilities throughout the recording.
The master trumpeter also shows some deft skills as a poet which was first witnessed on the controversial but outstanding From The Plantation to the Penitentiary
(Blue Note, 2007). Here, he reads verses from his eponymous titled poem "He and She" which alternately sets up each instrumental track. These brief preludes are filled with humor, emotion and attitude, creating anecdotal stories of adolescence, maturity, romance, love, and loss.
One section of the poem speaks of a dangerous conquest in one of the recording's most complex tracks, "The Razor Rim," a bopping tale of desire, moving from "Swinging 3/4" to "Elvin Jones 5/4" to "Modern 4/4 Swing" (as noted in the track notes). Another section covers the simple mathematics of lost love as Marsalis reads "1 + 0 = 0, remembering me without you," a fitting introduction to the blue balladry in "Zero." Other ideas include a "suite of firsts" in "First Crush," "First Slow Dance," etc., which may conjure up long forgotten memories.
The recording culminates with the poem read in its entirety; a fitting ending to the program. While there's nothing ultimately new here, from start to finish He and She
is performed to the hilt and swings gloriously with plenty of panache. Fans will not be disappointed and newcomers who are just getting introduced to Wynton Marsalis can let the courtship begin.