The Best of the Best. Wynton Marsalis, like Miles Davis and Art Blakey, has been responsible for presenting the jazz world with a legion of fully-formed and competent talent. Those who have been through Wynton’s School of the road include Marcus Roberts, the late Kenny Kirkland, Wessell “Warmdaddy” Anderson, Reginald Veal just to name a few. But in this critics meager opinion Wycliffe Gordon is the most talented of this rarified group. His work with Marsalis for the ten years has done for Marsalis’ band what Johnny Hodges, or more appropriately “Tricky” Sam Nanton did for Ellington’s orchestras. His voice is so unique and identifiable that it is about time he emerges with a recording as leader.
The Fruit Does Not Fall Far From the Tree. Marsalis instills in his bandmates an almost reverential respect for the classic jazz composers such as Jelly Roll Morton, Thelonious Monk, and Duke Ellington. That is evident on this recording with no less than three Ellington tunes and Monk’s “Green Chimneys”, once a Monk rarity now receiving the attention of such talents as Marsalis, Andy Summers, Spencer Barefield a partial list of those who have recently recorded the. This recording remind me of Johnny Hodges’ Ellingtonia recordings during his absences from the maestro’s orchestras.
This disc is populated with blues, gospel, and gutbucket music. It is trombone heavy, a sure sign of boredom in the hands of a lesser musician. But Gordon carries this disc with all of the aplomb and gravity that one would expect of a master. There is none of the plunger-mute overload found on recent Marsalis recordings. The mute is used sparing and effectively on “It don’t mean a Thing”, making one wish for a Gordon recording of “East St. Louis Toodle-do.”
Gordon is joined by compatriots from the Lincoln Center Jazz orchestra. Along with the superb playing of the band, Gordon is graced with Milt Grayson’s baritone on the vocal version of “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me”, which is nothing short of appropriately phenomenal. On is own “What?!”, Gordon plays with a rapid fluidity that takes its place among the rarified company of a Bill Watrous or J.J. Johnson. The gospel “My God” is a fitting closing to this disc.
Released on the splendid German Nagel Heyer label, the sound of the recording is crisp with plenty of middle and bottom. The engineering is exceptional and, overall, the disc is without flaw. A thoroughly enjoyable experience.