Does anyone over there realise how good they are? That's to paraphrase what tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins asked about British pianist Stan Tracey, who led the house band at Ronnie Scott's club in London during the 1960s. "Does anyone here realise how good he is?" was Rollins' actual question (and decades later, the endorsement is still wheeled out by British music journalists).
So, does anyone in the US realise how good trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra are? Viewed from London, the aggregationand more particularly its director, Marsalisseems, on home turf, to get attacked for conservatism (true) and lack of creativity (ludicrously untrue) more often than it's praised for its meritsthrilling music, the celebration of a glorious tradition and valuable audience development for jazz. Marsalis may, indeed, be an outspoken and high profile critic of what he dubs "the so-called avant-garde," but to accuse him, as some do, of setting back the course of jazz is to overstate his importance. Would that an institution such as Jazz at Lincoln Center existed in London.
The two-disc Vitoria Suite is a joint homage to jazz, blues, southern Spanish flamenco and northern Spanish, Basque folk music. And the first thing to say is that it isn't a revisitation of trumpeter Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1960). While Davis' album was built around compositions by the Spanish composers Joaquin Rodrigo and Manuel de Falla (and others by arranger Gil Evans), Vitoria Suite is entirely composed by Marsalis; and while flamenco palmas (hand claps), jaleos (vocal exhortations) and cajon (wooden frame drum) are recurring motifs in Vitoria Suite, the north American/Spanish blend is neither as deep nor as brooding as it was on Sketches of Spain. Instead, in the main, Marsalis uses the Spanish tinge to color the music.
That said, there are a few resonantly flamenco-based tracks. Guitarist Paco de Lucia guests on two of these, turning in a wonderfully atmospheric solo on "Buleria El Portalon" over a fiery, three-piece, palmas and cajon rhythm section. Marsalis, who solos only three times on the album, is showcased on the moody "Blood Cry," another track channeling elemental flamenco.
The rest of the solosand every track bristles with improvisationare shared out between the band, with saxophonist and flautist Ted Nash, baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley, trombonist Chris Crenshaw, pianist Dan Nimmer and tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Victor Goines among the dozen or so luminaries.
Vitoria Suite is inventive, vitalising, superbly performed and totally engaging throughout its 90+ minutes playing time.
That's good enough, surely?
CD1: Big 12 (Gran Doce); Smooth In The Night (Suave En La Noche); Jason and
Jasone (Jason y Jasone; Buleria El Portalon; Blood Cry (La Llamada De La Sangre);
Inaki's Decision (La Decision De Inaki). CD2: The Tree Of Freedom (El Arboi De La
Libertad; Askatasunaren Zuhaitza); Deep Blue From The Foam (Profundo Lamento
Desde La Espuma); This Land And The Ocean (Esta Tierra y El Mar); Dato Street
Fiesta (Fiesta En La Calle Dato); Basque Song (Cancion Vasca; Euskal Abestia);
Wynton Marslis: trumpet, music director; Sean Jones: trumpet; Ryan Kisor:
trumpet; Marcus Printup: trumpet; Vincent Gardner: trombone; Chris Crenshaw:
trombone; Elliot Mason: trombone; Sherman Irby: alto saxophone; Ted Nash: alto
saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, clarinet; Walter Blanding Jr: tenor saxophone,
soprano saxophone; Victor Goines: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet,
bass clarinet; Joe Temperley: baritone saxophone, sopano saxophone, bass clarinet;
Dan Nimmer: piano; Carlos Henriquez: double bass; Ali Jackson: drums. Guest
musicians: Paco de Lucia: guitar; Chano Dominguez: piano; Israel Suarez "El
Pirana": percussion; Tomas Moreno "Tomasito": jaleos, palmas, stamps; Blas
Cordoba "El Kejio": jaleos, palmas.
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.