Marsalis uses Hopkins concert to show he's a bluesman, too


December 10, 1990|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

When Wynton Marsalis first burst on to the scene, his arrival was applauded for a number of reasons. There was his youth, his virtuosity, his belief in tradition and adherence to classic jazz forms. It was obvious even then that he was going to be an influential stylist on trumpet, and an important figure in jazz.

But the one thing no one could have guessed was that Marsalis would become a brilliant young bluesman, to boot.

It's not hard to understand why. Most listeners think of the blues as being just an adjunct to jazz; a root element, to be sure, but hardly the stuff of great improvisations. Trouble is, that's dead wrong. As Marsalis and his septet demonstrated at the Johns Hopkins University's Shriver Hall last night, the blues are the essence of jazz, the stuff that makes this music most vital.

Needless to say, there are quite a few ways this can be demonstrated, and the Marsalis band used them all. They played hard bop with Sonny Rollins' "Blue and Boogie," a performance which featured an elegantly paced solo by Marsalis, and a cool, cerebral tenor solo from Todd Williams. They offered a self-explanatory "Blues from New Orleans," which sandwiched some rough-and-tumble group improvisation between brash, vocalized solos by the bandleader. They even made a foray into dodecaphonics with a tone-row blues called "Down Home with Homey."

And when Marsalis and company testified to "The Majesty of the Blues," their playing was nowhere near as prosaic as its title might suggest.

Instead of building their solos around the usual set of blue notes, Williams and alto saxophonist Wes Anderson pushed the pentatonics in a more Easterly direction, spinning out sustained, Middle-Eastern modalities as the rhythm section churned an exotic, Moorish groove.

Yet as wide-ranging and instructive as the performance was, Marsalis and company never seemed stilted or didactic; they understood that, above all else, the blues should be fun. Which it was, from Wycliffe Gordon's tailgate trombone in "Blues" to Reginald Veal's eloquent melodicism in "Play the Blues and Go," and from Eric Reed's plangent piano in "Play the Blues" to Marsalis' harmon mute statement of "The Crying and Laughing Blues."

In fact, the only thing sad about this band's blues was that there should have been more.

There was almost no blues in Carl Filipiak's music, and that was something of a shame. Although the Baltimore-based guitarist is a capable player with a fine grasp of the fusion vocabulary, neither his solos nor his band pushed beyond the expected.

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