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Wynton Marsalis Septet: Live at the Village Vanguard

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One of the most prolific artists of the last decade, Wynton Marsalis finished out the century in heroic fashion with an extraordinary flurry of releases on both Columbia Jazz and Sony Classical, including his expansive “Swinging Into The 21st Century” series. His first release of the new millennium is rainbow-colored icing on that voluminous cake-a seven-CD set documenting the trumpeter over a five-year span of performances with his septet at the Village Vanguard.

With its emphasis on sheer, unadulterated swinging and lots of group interaction, this body of work harks back to the vibrant energy and spirit of abandon apparent on Marsalis’ excellent quintet outings from the ’80s, notably 1985’s Black Codes From the Underground with brother Branford and 1986’s Live at Blues Alley. But while those earlier offerings in Wynton’s oeuvre reflect the towering influence of the mid-’60s Miles Davis quintet, these septet recordings from March 1990 through Dec. 1994 show a more seasoned bandleader honing a more personal expression. The level of Wynton’s playing is astounding throughout and the players eagerly follow his lead, spurred on by Riley’s marvelous drumming. On the earlier recordings the band is Wessell Anderson on alto sax, Todd Williams on tenor sax, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, Reginald Veal on bass, Marcus Roberts on piano and Herlin Riley on drums. On the later recordings, Eric Reed replaces Roberts, Ben Wolfe replaces Veal and Victor Goines replaces Williams. The results from song to song, from disc to disc are often scintillating and Marsalis’ repartee with the audience as he introduces each tune and each member of the band is always genuine, warm, engaging and often funny.

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