Wynton Marsalis ‘He and She’ (Blue Note) 4/5

A new album after last year’s triumphant release and this one is based around the concept of the different stages in a male-female relationship with occasional and relatively short poem interludes recited by Marsalis himself. Stylistically this is one of Marsalis’ most diverse and stride piano, swing, post-bop and Afro-Cuban all feature at some point in proceedings. It is the waltz-like groove of ‘The sun and the moon’ which immediately attracts one attention with soulful, gospel inflections on tambourine that have become a trademark of previous releases. In contrast ‘School Boy’ begins as a ragtime piece with stride piano from excellent new band member Dan Nimmer accompanying Marsalis on trumpet before transforming into a modern bop composition. Possibly the first half is over-laden with poem recitations, but this is compensated in the second part of the album by the extended, virtual non-stop suite. This commences with ‘First crush’ which convincingly creates a romantic ambience, continuing with blues licks on piano on ‘First slow dance’. If ‘First kiss’ is something of a disappointment, strangely lacking in emotion, then ‘First time’ more than makes up for this with an Afro-Cuban flavour that begins as a danzon before upping the tempo into a spicy, fiery mambo that Machito or Tito Puente would have been proud of. Possibly the most impressive track on the whole album, however, is reserved for the longest peice, ‘The razor rim’, weighing in at over twelve minutes. This modal-influenced composition serves as a vehicle for Marsalis’ gorgeous restrained playing with Latin tinges kicking in after three minutes and excellent tenor soloing from Walter Blanding. The verdict may still be out on Marsalis’ influence on the evolution of jazz, but this latest release demonstrates that he is still active and creative both as a composer and performer.

Tim Stenhouse