As the most visible jazz musician of his time, Wynton Marsalis has received almost as many brickbats as bouquets, and he surely deserves plenty of both. He's the man most responsible for the jazz renaissance of the 80s, but he bears equal responsibility for jazz's discouraging (and even scarifying) neoconservative bent. Yet while his followers and proteges continue to mine the fields of hard bop, Marsalis has proved himself the most retrospective of all: he has continued to forge backward, exploring past sounds and textures until arriving at a modified version of the earliest jazz, which took root in his native New Orleans. That might suggest a measure of artistic simplification, but Marsalis has gone in just the opposite direction, composing large-scale, complexly interwoven works that appear studious and celebratory to his supporters, pretentious and imitative to his detractors. The most recent of these works to appear on disc is In This House, On This Morning, a multimovement evocation of the church service in African America; Marsalis will kick off his summer tour with a Chicago performance of the piece that's a benefit for the Children's Defense Fund. This sprawling, soulful panorama has much to recommend it. Marsalis's compositional skills continue to grow--allowing him to evoke colors and moods that would probably make Duke Ellington (his most obvious and domineering model) mighty proud--and his musicians execute each written turn, implied smear, and improvised solo with distinction. So why does so much of the music just seem to sit there? I think it has to do with the self-important enormity of the concept and the relentless sermonizing of the music; whatever the reason, on disc it never amounts to the sum of its parts. Wednesday, 7 PM, Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church, 2401 S.Wabash; 791-1846 or 667-2707.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Llewellyn.