Wynton Marsalis

From the Plantation to the Penitentiary
(Blue Note Records)

Aside from his role as music educator, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra director, and "yes man" of Ken Burns' criminally incomplete Jazz documentary, the apparent soothsayer of the genre's modern movement — trumpeter/bandleader Wynton Marsalis — is also the master of wallpaper jazz — compositions with easygoing tempos, robotic time signatures, and little evidence of on-the-spot improvisation. But the title alone of his latest release, From the Plantation to the Penitentiary, suggests a change of pace for the 45-year-old that's more "out" sounding (read: anything that isn't produced using a sonic assembly line). And there are, relatively speaking, flashes of grooving-ness on the album. The opening title track features protest vocals by Jennifer Sanon à la Abbey Lincoln in We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite, punctuated by Roach-esque rim shot wallops by skins player Ali Jackson Jr., while the stunning final bookending cut, "Where Y'all At?" showcases a fired-up Marsalis spitting political slam poetry while backed by a take-yo'-ass-back-to-church choir with attitude. Unfortunately, everything in between sounds like the same ol' predictable background music, but at least this wallpaper jazz effort contains some splotches of color and not just boring monochromatic patterns.

 
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