As a trumpet soloist, Marsalis has most assuredly grown in technique, power and profundity of nuance since his first days as a young rebel, yet, there is something more compelling about his early trumpet work, as seen in his early recordings, than his more recent work - especially that in the studio. On the early recordings, such as the brilliant eponymous debut, Think Of One, and Black Codes (From The Underground), Marsalis took more chances, waived the flag harder and dove headlong into the fray without worry for how he’d be perceived. The result was the birth of a trumpeter who deserved all of the fanatical critical success he attained. Still a brilliant soloist today, in the last 10 years Marsalis’ solos have become a little too well- organized; as if he’s thought it all out ahead of time leaving the listener with a dry reading of a solo that in its initial conception, was probably hot, but in subsequent versions has become more dry than enthusiastic and more predictable and inevitable than unavoidably rich. Perhaps as a way to get away from this Marsalis has been releasing more live recordings lately, and to this reviewer’s ears the results are a vast improvement.
This recording combines the spoken poetic word of Marsalis, and a remarkably mature poetic voice it is, along with his music played by a quintet. The poems appear before almost every jazz composition and are full of humor, pathos and some very real and prevalent observations. That Marsalis does the reading of his poems makes them all the more special because his ability to magnify and bring out specific words helps to define the shades of meaning.
On the musical side, Marsalis again presents some of today’s best young musicians. In the greatest tradition of the art, Marsalis is like the big three (Horace Silver, Art Blakey and Miles Davis) as the greatest identifier and promoter of the next generation of leaders in their own right. The history of jazz has always been built on the apprentice method; young hardworking musician meets and auditions for a spot in a small band, and through and under the tutelage of an honored jazz veteran the youngster learns what it means to carry the torch on to the next generation.
Walter Blanding is an intelligent and precocious young saxophonist who is able to weave beautifully crafted improvisational lines in any of the styles Marsalis chooses to compose. His work on the multi-metered and sectional "The Razor Rim" is transcendent and you can easily hear why he was chosen for the band. Drummer Ali Jackson is so light and tight with his cymbal work throughout, but especially on the waltz "Girls!," it’s obvious he’ll be a major force in the not too distant future. Carlos Henriquez’s bass is solid and Dan Nimmer’s piano work perfectly suits these compositions.
Overall, this recording is like so many of Marsalis’ recordings, an excellent statement of his vision of jazz - one that is centered on paying respect to the history of the music interpreted and envisioned through the eyes of young and seriously eager learning bandmates.