Bravura trumpet playing may have made Wynton Marsalis's name, but his most important role remains as stylistic taste maker to jazz's latest generation. Championing a return to Sixties-style modal hard bop, Marsalis has seen his neo-traditional stance almost instantaneously become the norm for contemporary jazz. Recently, however, Marsalis's archival tendencies have led him to investigate even earlier forms and role models.
a conscious return to long ignored forms of jazz expression. It's an approach that rejects the very style of playing Marsalis brought back to favor. Those familiar with Marsalis's sleek, earlier work may be disoriented; you have to search long and hard for anything resembling bop licks here. All the players including hot lips Marsalis slow way down, steeping themselves in the self-renewing power of jazz's blues, gospel and Crescent City roots. A love letter to Marsalis's hometown of New Orleans, Tune In Tomorrow
is an homage to Duke Ellington.
When Marsalis fixates on a musician (as he has in the past with Miles Davis), the assimilation can be chameleonlike, and his take on Duke is similarly uncanny. Although he hinted at lessons from the master on his 1989 album Majesty of the Blues, Marsalis displays a remarkable ability on this album to tap with just a few bold strokes into the characteristic compositional ploys (arrangements, tonal colorings, rhythmic conceptions) that call forth Ellington's glorious image. True to form, Marsalis draws upon an oft-overlooked period of Ellington's artistry: the late-Fifties and Sixties work found on soundtracks, extended suites and small-group recordings. Marsalis has done his homework; his attention to detail making each instrument a distinct voice and yet seamlessly combining them mirrors Ellington's unique gifts.
In its warmth, expertise and charm, Tune In Tomorrow may be Marsalis's best effort; encouraging younger players to reinvestigate Ellington's rich musical cache and to put away improvisational clichés could well be his greatest triumph. (RS 599)