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Classical - Released June 6, 1997 | Sony Classical

These ballets, each lasting a few minutes over half an hour, are mostly written-out compositions with jazz rhythm sections and jazz inflections from the players. As in much of Marsalis' writing in the '90s, he reaches back to several pre-bop classic jazz styles to form a synthesis of his own, with the wailing mark of Ellington ever-present in the voicings and harmonies. Jazz: 6 1/2 Syncopated Movements is a tightly arranged series of episodes that stalk across the jazz landscape from ragtime to dissonance, sometimes so tightly that it begins to resemble cartoon music. One of the more striking sections is "Trail of Tears," which has subtly smeared harmonies and horse-laughing from the muted brasses, and "Express Crossing" is right in the mold of Ellington's "Daybreak Express," with a nice breakneck muted solo for Marsalis. Though burdened with a typically pompous title, Jump Start -- The Mastery of Melancholy is actually the less pretentious ballet of the two, a suite of ten brief, disconnected big-band pieces in different idioms where the jazz elements come through with more freedom for the rhythm section and the soloists. This work hits its stride only toward the close with "Bebop" for small group (where Marsalis burns as he did in his extreme youth) and Harry "Sweets" Edison's delicious cameo on "Jump." Heavily staffed by members of Marsalis' late septet, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra plays both works in precise, crisp fashion, with Marsalis conducting Jump Start and playing lead and section trumpet in both ballets. © Richard S. Ginell /TiVo
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Jazz - Released October 31, 1993 | Columbia

For this double CD, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis musically depicts in three parts a lengthy Sunday church service with program music composed for each of the traditional activities. The set does take quite awhile to get going with much of the first two parts consisting of introductions and transitions to themes that never seem to arrive. There are some exceptions, particularly Marsalis' violent trumpet distortions on "Call to Prayer," a spirited New Orleans blues and Todd Williams' tenor solo on another blues. However it is the third section that is most notable. The 28-minute "In the Sweet Embrace of Life" instrumentally portrays a preacher giving a heated sermon, building up to a very feverish level. Marsalis' model in his writing is clearly Duke Ellington. Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon is an expert with mutes and Todd Williams is able to hint at both Paul Gonsalves on tenor and Dixieland clarinetists on soprano while altoist Wes Anderson and pianist Eric Reed are also major assets to the septet. Due to the memorable final section, this lengthy work is one of the high points of his career thus far. © Scott Yanow /TiVo