August 1998

Wynton Marsalis - The Midnight Blues - Standard Time Vol. 5
Columbia CK68921
Released: 1998

by Jay Piriz

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment *****

[Reviewed on CD]The best definition I can give of Wynton Marsalis' performance on this, his lucky 13th dedicated jazz album, is true artistry. Throughout this recording, Marsalis plays with a musical virtuosity seldom achieved, and reserved only for those fleeting moments when great classical training is fortunate enough to collide with genetic and/or divine predisposition. Destiny.

When you allow yourself to be totally absorbed by this music, it deftly carries you away into a world where the musicians are actively conversing with each other in a universal language. Whether or not you speak the language, you are instantly overcome by a sense of understanding that mere words cannot convey. This music is best enjoyed very late at night when the listening environment is free from artifact and interruption. Although not compulsory, a glass or two of good -- no, great -- wine is highly recommended.

Before I get into the specific delights of this CD, and there are many, let me discuss the recording itself. Seldom does a major label, in this case Columbia, take extraordinary steps to assure that a commercial recording effort is produced in a technical manner worthy of the caliber of the musicians. In this case, however, the recording is extraordinary. This entire performance was recorded in the Grande Lodge of the Masonic Hall in New York City. The musicians were captured live, with no overdubbing of any instruments, on state-of-the-art digital equipment. The mixing was performed at Sony Music Studios in New York City using 24-bit technology. Sonically, this CD is a delight. The ambiance and space of the venue are particularly palpable on those tracks containing orchestral passages. Throughout the CD, the sweet emotion of the notes emanating from Marsalis' trumpet reverberate and decay naturally, without exaggerated sharpness or edge. This is a fine, smooth recording.

Now for the music. Marsalis and his trio (Eric Reed on piano, Reginald Veal on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums) are the embodiment of musical synergy. Adding to the listener’s enjoyment is a fine string orchestra backing up the trio. The second track, "You're Blasť", highlights the smooth, sensitive, infectious style of Marsalis' horn playing. There are some standards on this CD which are masterfully redone. The first track, "The Party's Over," is thoroughly engaging, with a shower of strings accompanying Marsalis' soulful horn throughout.

Reed’s mastery of the piano is heard all over this CD. Particular treats to be enjoyed are at 3:20 of the third track, "After You've Gone," and again at 5:25 into the fourth track, "Glad to Be Unhappy." Marsalis' rendition of the beautiful Rodgers and Hart standard "It Never Entered My Mind" summons visions of cabarets and smoke-filled night clubs. The trio is particularly together here, with Veal’s bass line effectively underscoring the tempo of the entire song.

I am somewhat at a loss for words to express effectively how much enjoyment I received from listening to The Midnight Blues. The music is timeless, the performers are at the very top of their class and the recording itself is artfully done. If you are a jazz aficionado, just go buy this CD -- uncork a bottle of great wine, wait until midnight. Indulge!