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September 1999

Wynton Marsalis
Marsalis Plays Monk-Standard Time Volume IV
Columbia Jazz

In conversation one of the points Wynton Marsalis drives home is the fact that jazz musicians have long been guilty of boring the audience through over-long soloing and falling into the head-solos-head ad nauseum routine. And indeed it is all too true that this tired format, including solos that often journey well beyond the boundaries of fresh ideas and fail to tell any semblance of a story, is more likely to yield a glazed-over audience than it is to generate true excitement. Admittedly in covering Monk, Wynton has chosen a path traversed by more than a few. On this disc one hears a concerted effort to avoid the gates of apathy, through conscious editing of the improvisations, varying the format to a refreshing degree, and addressing Monk's music with a New Orleans kind of sparkle and joy, including use of polyphony, that is palpable and rewarding. Case in point is "Green Chimneys", which closes not with the typical ensemble head statement, but with a trumpet and drum outro.

Wynton's septet bears the benefit of significant performance work, enabling the players (Eric Reed on piano, Walter Blanding, Victor Goines and Wes Anderson on saxes, Ben Wolfe alternating with Reginald Veal on bass, and trusty Herlin Riley on drums) to address the material with authority. The spotlight is clearly on Wynton's arranging acumen, which sparkles throughout. "Brake's Sake" recalls Steve Lacy's deep investment in Monk courtesy of its soprano sax lead. Dig Wynton's muted, laughing theme statement on "Worry Later." When approaching Monk's music, an adept pianist equipped with a sense of humor is required and Reed has it, which he exhibits particularly well on "Brake's". In concert Wynton has begun introducing Riley as one of the all-time great drummers. I don't know about all that, but he's damn sure one of the most clever; witness his various nuances, manipulations and skilled alterations of touch, a la his intro on "Green Chimneys."

Originally published in September 1999
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