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Features

Clarion call for change

By TIMES STAFF
Published March 27, 2007


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Wynton Marsalis, From the Plantation to the Penitentiary (Blue Note)

From his landmark album Black Codes (From the Underground) through his Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio Blood on the Fields, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has always found avenues for social critique. But his new quintet album delivers a fresh jolt to the system, by blowing apart the refuge of allegory. Oh, and he raps. But we'll get to that.

Marsalis delegates most of the album's vocal duties to a remarkable newcomer, Jennifer Sanon. Singing in a clarion tone with minimal vibrato, she projects a timbre not unlike Marsalis' trumpet, carrying the album the way that Abbey Lincoln carried Max Roach and Oscar Brown Jr.'s Freedom Now Suite.

But that was a cry for civil rights; what troubles Marsalis is the state of civility itself. His lyrics disparage a culture of heartless poverty, chic misogyny and rapacious greed. He delivers the sharpest jabs himself, quasi-rapping on a track called Where Y'All At?: "All you '60s radicals and world-beaters/righteous revolutionaries, Camus-readers/liberal students, equal-rights pleaders/what's goin' on now that y'all are the leaders?"

Don't be fooled: Marsalis still has no amicable feelings for hip-hop, the genre his lyrics elsewhere deride as "ghetto minstrelsy." But while this album builds on blues and jazz traditions - by way of a band that has studiously conquered them - it also hungers for relevance.

"You got to speak the language the people are speakin', " barks Marsalis, " 'Specially when you see the havoc it's wreakin'. " But he seems aware that fighting fire with fire, in some cases, might only fuel the flames.

Nate Chinen, New York Times

 

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Mika, Life in Cartoon Motion

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Clutch, From Beale Street to Oblivion

Kaiser Chiefs, Yours Truly Angry Mob

 

[Last modified March 27, 2007, 06:36:48]


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