In pop and rock music, the benefits of seeing a live show are largely about the experience – either the artist has a great stage show, loads of energy, or just presents a great opportunity to share a love of music with other like-minded individuals. Seldom is what happens live better than the studio representation – and sometimes when the theatrics of the stage show are highlighted the live elements are enhanced with pre-recorded elements. Of course, there are many, many exceptions to this … but for every Frank Zappa or Bruce Springsteen there are a dozen Tom Pettys or Britney Spears or Miranda Cosgroves.
In the world of jazz, things are generally exactly the opposite – musicians in the studio have a hard time capturing the intimate communication and intense interplay that characterizes their live performances. And I would argue that in cases where that is NOT true (*cough* Kenny G *cough*) … it wasn’t really jazz in the first place.
But it is still rare to have bland source material turned into a masterful live performance, yet that is exactly what turned up in my YouTube subscription update this week. In 2003 Wynton Marsalis released ‘Magic Hour’, his first new material in several years and first small group recording since … a long time ago! I quickly bought it on CD, and it has been off my iPod and iTunes since 2004. It was just exceedingly mediocre, and made me want to listen to his much better small group material like 1985’s ‘Black Codes from the Underground’.
Yet when performed live, those same bland melodies and harmonies come to life in a way I wouldn’t have believed possible. Part of it is the live nature of the performance, part the amazing band Marsalis has been working with, part of it comes from subtle reworking of the source material … and the rest, I have no idea.
However it happened, it is really great stuff, and Wynton Marsalis released a 35-minute chunk of his group performing it at Ronnie Scott’s in England from August 19th. It is cool stuff … give a listen.