If evidence of eighteenth-century jazz is unearthed in, say, the 21st century, Wynton Marsalis is likely the man who will play it and talk it up. The 38-year-old New Orleanian has heaped his credentials as an archivist and popular lecturer so high upon his status as a historian and neo-classical composer that we almost forget these days that he used to be a trumpet player of some note -- one who's sure to strengthen his chops if the Dead Sea Scrolls of jazz are one day discovered beneath the Mississippi.
For now, Marsalis has retrogressed about as far as he can go with My Jelly Lord, a collection of blues and stomps, some of them written almost a century ago, by the great jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton. With all due respect to Marsalis's New Orleans roots and the fervor with which he's introduced jazz to vast new audiences, it's time to ask again the question on the lips of every forward-looking jazzophile: Why limit our view of this beautiful and capacious music to its past? We can argue Marsalis's contention that "all jazz is modern" until Charlie Parker springs from his grave, but the vintage squalks, howls and growls that make up these revisitations to "King Porter Stomp" and "Deep Creek" argue otherwise. As he indulges his Buddy Bolden fantasy (which has supplanted, for the moment, his Duke Ellington fantasy), Wynton sounds like he's 38 going on 108 and that nostalgia continues to rule him.
Is it meant to be ironic that he's included Jelly Roll's lesser-known "Dead Man Blues" among these fifteen tracks? Probably not: The Pat Buchanan of jazz doesn't make jokes about the past, nor does he acknowledge that we might all be better off, should we feel like traveling there, listening to real Jelly Roll Morton recordings or early Louis Armstrong rather than Marsalis's vaguely updated reproductions -- loving though they are.
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His sidemen here are all the usual suspects, including the full-bodied trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, reedmen Victor Goines and Wessell Anderson, drummer Herlin Riley and four different pianists (Eric Lewis, Danilo Perez, Harry Connick Jr. and Eric Reed). In other settings, blessed with fresher air, they look ahead, not backward.