Wynton Marsalis: Live at the House of Tribes

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Clay Patrick McBride

Wynton Marsalis

With Wynton Marsalis’ multimillion dollar JALC compound finally built, the trumpeter could have easily made this live recording an advertisement for the acoustics of its swanky Allen Room or Rose Hall. Instead he recorded in the modest surroundings of the Lower East Side’s House of Tribes and delivered us something that lends more credence to the traditionalist jazz dogma he peddles than anything he’s made since 1986’s Live at Blues Alley.

Introduced by a sputtering Marsalis, Thelonious Monk’s “Green Chimneys” begins a burst of improvisational creativity that lasts 15 minutes and has every soloist obliterating any threat of tedium during the jam. Reach is this album’s theme, and Marsalis’ players execute expansion on six standards with surprisingly consistent success considering they work exclusively in the exhausted form of head-solos-head arrangement. Altoist Wes Anderson squeezes out an intervallic fire in “Just Friends,” pianist Eric Lewis pulls from all the pockets in his pants for an utterly suspenseful break in “What Is This Thing Called Love?” and Marsalis builds a mountain range of melody in a heart-racing “Donna Lee.”

The album owes a lot to its imperfectly captured sound, with shouts and grunts from band and audience members alike who were caught up in these rousing, instantly classic performances. Marsalis can build all the concert halls he wants, but records like this are the most meaningful monuments to his favorite music.