[JPL] I gave this article five stars.
Bobby.Jackson at ideastream.org
Wed May 2 11:34:23 EDT 2007
I just got finished reading this article and I gave it Five Stars....
Author Ron Jacobs really gets at the HEART of Wynton's latest recording.
He has stated his assessment of Wynton's work a lot more eloquently than
I could have.
Wynton Marsalis Checks In on The Land That Never Has Been Yet:
A Review of From the Plantation to the Penitentiary (Blue Note, 2007)
by Ron Jacobs
I've been listening to Wynton Marsalis' new disc From the Plantation to
the Penitentiary a lot. It's got the music -- a neat jazz combo running
through a variety of styles. It's just enough bop and bebop so it
doesn't put one to sleep like a Kenny G. solo, but it's not an avalanche
of sound like those from Coltrane's thundering Ascension either. Then
there's the vocals. Yes, the vocals. Mr. Marsalis is putting some
lyrics to his tunes on this one, and he's got plenty to say. The first
discs I thought of after listening to the first tune were Rahsaan Roland
Kirk's early 1970s works Volunteered Slavery and Blacknuss. That
eponymous tune, "From the Plantation to the Penitentiary," is an angry
history of the black man in the United States. Brought over in chains,
emancipated, and back in chains. It's intentional, make no doubt about
Piano melodies and bass lines from the earth. Lyrics channeling
Langston Hughes in meter and intent. Diatribes against the emptiness of
consumer culture whether it be car sales or gangsta rap. The tune "Love
and Broken Hearts" wonders, like the best of Donny Hathaway: where is
the love? Let's start at the beginning and wander around the tunes
Marsalis has laid down here. From the Plantation to the Penitentiary is
at times a soulful moan. Other times it sparkles with a hope implicit
in Wynton's horn. That trumpet is the voice of the men in Angola or
Partchman Farm. It's the women picking cotton across America's South.
The lyrics tie the servitude all together. Jennifer Sanon's vocals are
an instrument of their own. Oppression on the plantation and the chains
of the inmate gangs. The money involved that made the United States the
capitalist country that it is and the multibillion-dollar prison
industry that replaces the plantation for way too many black men in this
Speaking of capitalism, that's what this disc is about. Everything is
for sale. "Gimme this, Gimme that. . . . I got to have. I got to have
now." Those are lines from the tune called "Supercapitalism." It's the
conditioning we've been provided. The ultimate consumer consciousness
is but one lament. The fact that the people's history is erased, or
renamed and sold as lies, is another. The loss of love and its
replacement by violence and hookup sex is another. No belief in the
future and no care for one's neighbors. It's a pretty bleak picture Mr.
Marsalis and his combo are painting here. Shattered people without a
home, left to suck on capitalism's bone. And where are the organizers?
The leaders who would show us a way out of this tragic existence?
That's the question Wynton asks in the final tune in this layout, "Where
Y'all At?" We believe they are out there, but when will they step up?
Maybe then, things aren't so bleak. Perhaps this disc is actually a
call to change, not a poem of despair.
Musically, again. It's not adventurous like the aforementioned Rahsaan
Roland Kirk disc, but it's an enjoyable blend of styles and tones.
Rhythmically, it goes from foot tapping to danceable to contemplative.
Wynton Marsalis is a traditionalist, yet he goes outside his realm here,
and it works. There's a series Marsalis did that I saw on PBS where he
talked about jazz -- its history, its musical structure, and its
cultural meaning. The series was enjoyable and informative without
being pedantic. This disc is like that, except it's all music. The
words here are songs, not introductions to songs. The singer brings the
words into the forefront of the combo without taking the spotlight away
from the message. Like Hermes, she delivers the words without becoming
the story. She is Calliope to the combo's Orpheus. The combo includes
Marsalis on trumpet, Walter Blanding on tenor & soprano saxophones, Dan
Mimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass, and Ali Jackson, Jr on drums.
All four sidemen are relatively new names on the scene and should be
proud of their involvement here. I hope they go on tour with it. Such
an endeavor might encourage them to stretch these songs out a little
In his liner notes, legendary jazz critic Stanley Crouch notes that "art
evolves with society and is informed by society." I would take that a
step further and say that the best art can also influence the direction
a society can take. My next logical statement is that this disc is some
of the best art I've heard in a while, especially from the jazz world.
>From the Plantation to the Penitentiary is a reflection of the bankrupt
society of greed and racism that we live in as much as it is a lesson in
jazz and other American music forms. The history and frustration
expressed in the lyrics illustrate the evolution of the
African-Americans oppression in terms of the facts on the ground (and
hanging from the trees) and the particular psychology of the market and
its racial history. Yet, it's not only about black Americans. It's
also about the rest of us, too. The racist history we all share, which
formed our economic system, is enveloping us all in its battle to
control. Mr. Marsalis' most recent effort can become part of that
rarest echelon in art: it is good enough to influence our direction if
only enough listen.
(By the way, the line "The land that never has been yet," in the title
is from Langston Hughes poem "Let America Be America Again.")
JUST AN ADDENDUM....
I remember Jim Wilke when you posted a critique of this work and told us
that the critic gave it one star. I was appalled and let it be known
then. When a critic gives a work like this ONE star, he has an agenda
that never addressed the work. There's something else going on.
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