Black Codes (From The Underground) [2023 Remaster]

Black Codes (From The Underground) [2023 Remaster]

Ever since the early 1980s, trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis has sought to change the conversation about jazz and its place in American culture. And to this day, as director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, he‘s never stopped. His first two albums for Columbia (Wynton Marsalis and Think of One) were solidly smoking small-group affairs, followed by the Wynton-with-strings offering Hot House Flowers. But it was 1985’s Black Codes (From the Underground) that would prove to be Marsalis’ fiery magnum opus—as well as arguably the single greatest document of what became known as the Young Lions era. The writing on Black Codes (From the Underground) is rhythmically and harmonically imposing, and the swing from bassist Charnett Moffett and Jeff “Tain” Watts is unstoppable. The blended sound of Marsalis, his older brother Branford Marsalis (tenor sax), and Kenny Kirkland (piano) was something sublime, on another plane. What this was not, however, was the “return” of acoustic jazz, a style that had never gone away, despite how culturally sidelined by fusion it may have become in the 1970s. Marsalis and the Black Codes quintet did, however, set a new benchmark in terms of sonic clarity and color and band interplay in the acoustic setting. The fire that ignites within Watts every time Kirkland begins a solo never ceases to amaze. The way the group turns on a dime through the disorienting hits and transitions of the title track, finally settling into a breezy but angular 20-bar blues, is surreal. And the burners on Black Codes—“Delfeayo’s Dilemma,” “Phryzzinian Man,” Kirkland’s “Chambers of Tain”—are balanced by the calmer glow of “For Wee Folks” and “Aural Oasis” (the latter with Ron Carter on bass). Meanwhile, the album’s closing track, “Blues,” featuring just trumpet and bass, sounds like a reassertion of traditionalist principles, harkening back to Marsalis’ native New Orleans—as well as the father of all trumpet influences: Louis Armstrong.

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