Man of Substance


It’s charming to think Stanley Crouch grew Wynton Marsalis in a petri dish. But fact is, Marsalis is an independent thinker whose boyish charm gets confused for loud arrogance simply because he’s prideful, powerful, and pretty. And he’s no false prophet. Blood on the Fields grabbed the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 as a sound portrait of African American history, and the swing-happy trumpeter’s new All Rise might as well do the same.

The double disc comprises 12 movements—like bars in a blues or months in a year—charting character development, seasonal change, and identity crisis. Given that Ralph Ellison mentored Crouch, and Crouch mentors Marsalis, it’s no surprise All Rise sounds lick for lick like a musical interpretation of Invisible Man. Marsalis even titles a track “The Halls of Erudition and Scholarship (Come Back Home).” If that’s not a clear nod to the Ellison protagonist’s ethical encounter with a racist white school system, what is? “Cried, Shouted, Then Sung” summarizes Jim Trueblood—who impregnates his daughter, whines about it, then sings the blues to transcend disgrace. Marsalis even describes All Rise as a cycle of rebirths.

But the album’s not just great literature. It’s background to your bath, antidote for your angst, and toothpick for that nasty girl’s hair that got caught between your teeth during the Medeski moshpit at Hammerstein. All Rise, ironically like Medeski’s Combustication—and despite Marsalis’s monumental lack of melody—combines old-school classical with new-school jazz in a carefully crafted tribute to each. “Go Slow (But Don’t Stop)” turns a furious waltz into a tugboat ballad, into a Basin-happy blues, into up-tempo swing, and back into the waltz—with transitions so tight and pauses so unpredictable that the antagonism Marsalis generates when his chubby face sours magazine ads for million-dollar watches gets purged by thunderous drums and torrential tubas. At 3:51 in “Cried, Shouted, Then Sung,” the tuba player plops a crisp classical quip before a quote from Sonny Rollins’s “Oleo” in a compositional maneuver that can only be described as totally fucking cool.

Marsalis, on both discs, straps Stravinsky to Scofield and Mendelssohn to Monk in a rainy-day-blues-meets-flight-of-the-bumblebee salute to gospel and Godard. Yup, there’s even new wave French cinema in there. You just have to listen for it.