Saturday, October 31, 2009
Wynton MARSALIS - Unforgivable Blackness 2004
The legendary Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion, is the subject of Ken Burns's 2005 PBS documentary, and Wynton Marsalis (a major figure in the filmmaker's 2000 miniseries, Ken Burns's Jazz) turns in a brilliant original score that captures the courage, chaos, and controversy of Johnson's racially charged feats and exploits. Compositions by Jelly Roll Morton and W.C. Handy augment the leader's quasi-Ellingtonian ragtime, blues, dirges, ballads, and stride selections. Also included are four previously released tracks, two from Mr. Jelly Lord and two from Reeltime, the Marsalis score made for (but ultimately not used in) the movie Rosewood. Of course, Marsalis is on his best trumpet behavior, and he shows a real and unacknowledged talent for writing in this idiom.
By Eugene Holley, Jr. AMG.
Who better to invoke the past in tune than Wynton Marsalis? After all, the stick-in-the-mud trumpet virtuoso reveres the days of yore as few others playing today, proffering them nightly before sellout crowds the world round. So when the gig came up to score Ken Burns' new documentary, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson , the choice was simple, almost ordained.
As evidenced by the title, boxer Jack Johnson's life was a dervish of accomplishment and misfortune—ascending to highs of heavyweight triumph, then plummeting to brutal lows of racial persecution and social exile. Such a life requires an accompaniment as varied as its own travails and indulgences and thus Marsalis' score was forced to shift with the shifting tides of Johnson's tragic tale.
The twenty-odd tracks on the disc are appropriately drenched in these turns and likewise shaped to convey the musical forms that populated the boxer's times. Ragtime stomps, strides and blues allow Marsalis and company to paint an evocative portrait of Johnson's America, or rather the America that built and broke the fighter's legendary spirit.
Perhaps the most surprising quality of this recording is the way in which intended antiquation blends with inevitable modernity. For card-carrying Ragtimers, a measure of delight will be found in hearing contemporary musicians whoop, squall, bump, grind and gut-bucket to fresh compositions, captured without the blips, scratches and echoes of jazz music's earliest recordings.
What's more, the album even offers an occasional taste of modern lyricism (see Victor Goines' tenor solo on "New Orleans Bump"), cleverly manifesting the unflappable progressiveness at the core of Johnson's legacy.
Although Marsalis and Burns may forever be the subject of distaste and criticism, this new collaboration is certainly worth a listen.
By Riel Lazarus.
Wynton Marsalis's, soulful, syncopated and very moving score is one of the finest jazz scores to have emerged since Duke Ellington did ANATOMY OF A MURDER. Marsalis draws on blues, dance and jazz idioms of the period conducting a small ensemble with all the right pieces and plenty of brass.
The opening cut, "What have you done?" is (not to pun, please) a knockout. It is dark, rhythmic and ominous. It prophesies the tragedy to befall Johnson in his prime. By comparison, the closer, "We'll meet again someday" speaks of Johnson's growing impotence in his fall from grace. Eric Lewis's nimble piano and Victor Goines' spicy clarinet, remind listeners the world continued to spin in the midst of Johnson's tragedy, and that the same world would continue to wreak havoc with its proprietary racism, politically condoned and socially acceptable, both now and then.
EMI's engineers deliver a crisp, natural acoustic to the proceedings. Liner note are interesting, but might have been longer, particularly the section written by Burns' colleague, Geoffrey C. Ward.
In all, the performance merits a more regal presentation, although I'm grateful we have it in any form.
Wynton Marsalis- Trumpet;
Wessell Anderson- Alto saxophone, Clarinet;
Victor Goines- Clarinet, Tenor saxophone, Bass clarinet;
Wycliffe Gordon- Trombone, Tuba on "New Orleans Bump;"
Lucien Barbarin - Trombone;
Eric Lewis- Piano, Washboard on "What Have You Done?"
Eric Reed- Piano;
Reginald Veal- Bass;
Herlin Riley- Drums, Tambourine;
Doug Wamble, Don Vappie- Banjo, Guitar;
Dr. Michael White, Sam Karam, Sherman Irby, Andrew Farber- clarinet; Gideon Feldstein- Clarinet, Bass clarinet on "Fire in the Night;"
Marcus Printup- Trumpet on "Fire in the Night;"
Stephen Riley- Tenor saxophone on "Fire in the Night;"
Kimati Dinizulu- Percussion on "Fire in the Night."
01. What Have You Done?
02. Ghost in the House
03. Jack Johnson Two-Step
04. But Deep Down
05. Love & Hate
06. High Society
07. Careless Love
08. New Orleans Bump
09. Trouble My Soul
10. Deep Creek
11. Johnson 2-Step
12. Rattlesnake Tail Swing
13. Weary Blues
14. Troubles My Soul
15. Johnson Two-Step
16. Fire in the Night
17. Morning Song
18. I'll Sing My Song
19. Buddy Bolden's Blues
20. Last Bell
21. We'll Meet Again Someday