It's in the mix

Many metaphors are used to encapsulate jazz. I prefer to use soup. Some jazz artists create a sound like a stew, where everything blends in to create something unifying. Others create more of a bouillabaisse, where all of the individual sounds retain their identities. At the core, though, jazz is about mixing and matching. Jazz, like rock, is often best when it is at its most impure.

Afro Peruvian New Trends Orchestra
Uniting Beats

Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra
Make America Great Again
(Troubadour Jass)

The two albums I'm reviewing here are both excellent examples of creating a new whole out of often disparate parts. Corina Bartra has been injecting South American and Caribbean sounds into jazz for some time. This latest effort is a big band take on her expansive vision of jazz.

These pieces will make you want to dance, cry and laugh--often at the same time. These bright, kinetic pieces often come with a side of melancholy, as if Bartra is offering a low-key history lesson along with her music. Well, I think she might be. And it's so beautiful that I don't mind.

A lot of folks don't know Delfeayo Marsalis, the oldest Marsalis brother who is probably better-known as a producer than a performer. But he plays a sweet trombone, and he has one of the finest ears for the transformative nature of jazz that I've ever heard.

The title of the album came about from Marsalis's commitment to creative improvisation. The "gimmick" at live shows was that the Uptown Jazz Orchestra would improvise a song around an audience suggestion. Trump's slogan was put forward, and after enduring some boos Marsalis and his band improvised a song that incorporated their vision of a better America. An inclusive, dynamic and forward thinking piece, that event provided the spark for the album. It's a clever way of trumping all the reactionary noise that is clogging the air right now.

If this album is his protest, it's a propulsive, vigorous and thoroughly enjoyable one. Marsalis and his orchestra spin the many threads of American music into a moving and thoughtful set. I've always come away from his albums with a broader mind, and this one is no exception.

These two albums are proof that the jazz big band can be just as nimble and innovative as the tightest trio. I think Ellington and Gillespie proved that decades ago, but it's great to hear modern jazz orchestras take up the mantle and run with it. Bartra and Marsalis long ago proved their mettle, but these albums take them up another notch. Spectacular.

Jon Worley

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