Wynton Marsalis: The Majesty of the Blues (The Puheeman Strut)


The Majesty of the Blues (The Puheeman Strut)


Wynton Marsalis (trumpet)


The Majesty of the Blues (Columbia 45091)

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Wynton Marsalis (trumpet), Marcus Roberts (piano), Reginald Veal (bass), Wes Anderson (alto sax), Herlin Riley (drums),

Todd Williams (tenor sax)


Composed by Wynton Marsalis


Recorded: New York, October 27-28, 1988


Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

This performance marks a major turning point in the career of Wynton Marsalis. Before this recording, Marsalis was a futurist, working on elaborate polyrhythmics, playing fast and hard, and moving in a post-Miles direction. Then—seemingly overnight—he becomes the grand traditionalist, and shows off a killin' pre-bop sound, built on down-and-dirty textures reminiscent of Bubber Miley and King Oliver.

'What's going on?' as Marvin Gaye might ask. This stylistic shift seemed like a step backward at the time. But was it really? To move from playing discrete notes to undulating sound textures was, circa 1988, a pretty radical step for the most prominent young musician in jazz. Marsalis's solo, unlike anything he had recorded previously (although a harbinger of much to come) is artfully constructed, and took him outside the invariable comparisons with Miles and Brownie, Dizzy and Freddie, and the like. In short, Wynton had changed the rules on us without any warning.

To some degree, a traditionalist bent had already entered the jazz world before this recording, but The Majesty of the Blues took it to a new level. Yet for all that, there is a wicked, modernist undercurrent here. The stately 6/4 meter is played with a panoramic, open pulse, and sounds very up to date. Marcus Roberts is decidedly not trying to channel Earl Hines, and Veal and Riley are collaborating on their own happenin' groove. This is a coronation march for a nightlife diva, a mixture of the majesty (announced in the title) with something grittier and darker, but all steeped in the New Orleans tradition. The chord progression is a blues, but the stretched-out bar lengths give it an unconventional twist. The horn writing is sparse, but with a growling Ellingtonian quality that is quite effective.

All in all, this track represented a stunning turn of events for the artist who had just turned 27 the week before the session. To some degree, the jazz world is still dealing with the aftermath.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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