Wynton Marsalis Live at the House of Tribes. Blue Note Records.
Review written by Tom Wilmeth February 7, 2006
If anyone has done a thorough job of documenting his working live bands, it’s Wynton Marsalis. In the mid-1980s he released the lengthy double LP of his quartet Live at Blues Alley. In 1999 came a 7 CD set featuring three different Marsalis-led groups, all recorded at the Village Vanguard between 1990 to 1994. Although Live at the House of Tribes is a recent release, it was recorded in December 2002, meaning that the band does not yet include Milwaukee’s own Dan Nimmer on piano.
This quintet gives a program of expected composers. But give credit to the much maligned Wynton for keeping these renditions challenging and fresh. It would be easy for the heralded trumpeter to take a café society approach to jazz at this point of his career. He could play safe chamber jazz for the audiences often drawn to his concerts by cultural name recognition rather than by a love of the music. Marsalis clearly enjoys the celebrity he has gained over the years, but he is still leading a jazz group based on exciting improvisation, as this CD repeatedly shows.
Opening the set is Thelonious Monk’s lesser known “Green Chimneys,” which gets a quarter-hour workout, as does the following “Just Friends.” Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” is positively brief here at seven minutes. The set is rounded-out with the Cole Porter perennial, “What Is This Thing Called Love.”
Marsalis has been roundly criticized for being too studied in his playing, too reverent to the music’s history, and too opinionated in his promotion of jazz. Perhaps the truth behind much of the criticism is that he is just too successful for the medium. It has been five years since Ken Burns’ Jazz series was broadcast, starring Wynton in the role of Shelby Foote. For those sharply critical of Marsalis, for whatever reason -- Can we let him up now and just listen to the horn? It’s time.
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