April 12, 2004 12:00 PM


Wynton Marsalis


Just say “Wynton” and jazz lovers worldwide conjure the affable, natty trumpeter with classical-caliber skills and Crescent City charm. Unfortunately they might also think of a starchy traditional jazz stalwart seen on PBS who can seem about as fresh as Bill Cosby in a world full of Dave Chappelles. But not this time. With The Magic Hour, Marsalis features a new quartet and new tunes on a new label: Wynton has come to play.

Catch him chirping sky-high note runs at the start of the impressionistic title tune. Check out the searing trumpet blasts on the blues-coated “The Feeling of Jazz.” Dig his instrumental response to Bobby McFerrin’s humorous call on “Baby, I Love You,” one of two tracks with vocals. (“Jazz” features Dianne Reeves.) Admit it, fans: You forgot Marsalis could make a horn sing. Not since his early triumphs has the nine-time Grammy winner sounded so cool, loose and enjoyable. For what feels like the first time in years, he isn’t sacrificing swing for sophistication. It’s a neat trick pulled off thanks to a band comprised of Marsalis protégés from his Jazz at Lincoln Center master classes. On piano, Eric Lewis is a percussive force second only to drummer Ali Jackson, whose accents, counterbeats and consistency support Carlos Henriquez’s resonant bass pulse.

Throughout, Marsalis blends the cute and the complex on numbers like “Big Fat Hen,” a surprisingly funky track that combines a samba rhythm with a New Orleans back-beat. With songs that deliver as much excitement as erudition, he pays tribute to jazz icons such as Ellington, Monk and Armstrong. Marsalis’s magical compositions—tiny suites that shift style, color and mood from section to section—demonstrate that he may one day be mentioned in the same breath as those greats.

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