Art Blakey (featuring Wynton Marsalis): How Deep Is the Ocean?


How Deep Is the Ocean?


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers


Straight Ahead (Concord 4168)

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Art Blakey (drums), Wynton Marsalis (trumpet), James Williams (piano), Charles Fambrough (bass).

Composed by Irving Berlin


Recorded: Keystone Korner, San Francisco, June 1981


Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

I still remember the intense buzz when Art Blakey brought this band to San Francisco's Keystone Korner. The jazz cognoscenti were flocking to the club, and I heard them proclaiming: "I'm going to see Wynton." Not, "I'm going to hear Art Blakey." Or: "I'm going to check out the Jazz Messengers." Marsalis may have been a sideman and only 19 years old, and he had yet to release his first CD as a leader . . . but already word of mouth was spreading like a wildfire.

Marsalis did not disappoint, as this track will make clear. Wynton himself has sometimes made dismissive comments about his early work, but I still get jazzed every time I listen to his performance of "How Deep Is the Ocean?" In an era in which most trumpeters preferred to play fast rather than clean, with intensity rather than control, Wynton showed you could have it all. His sound is gorgeous on the slow, rubato opening, but even when the tempo accelerates and he starts dishing out fast, curlicue runs, he still gets that big, burnished tone. There are a few rough moments, for example when Marsalis and pianist James Williams appear to clash in their choice of a chord, but even this miscue adds to the sense of spontaneity of this live performance.

This period in Marsalis's career was almost over before it began. He was soon going beyond Brownie and Navarro, ready to assimilate Miles and Ornette, and then launch into his own Wynton-esque bag. But even if Marsalis had retired after his stint with Blakey, he would deserve consideration as one of the finest hard-bop trumpeters on the strength of performances such as this one.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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