Like Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis writes about many places and spaces. This 13-part opus, the final release of the trumpeter's Swinging into the 21st Century Series, is dedicated to the Jazz in Marciac Festival in France, where Marsalis has performed and taught since 1991. Stylistically, the work bears the style-spanning traits of a Marsalis composition, running from waltzes to carnival tunes. There are the sensual ballads, like "Mademoiselle D'Gascony" and "Guy Lafitte" with its echoes of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" and tenor saxophonist Victor Goines's evocative solo. Marcus Roberts's stride piano dance illuminates "For My Kids at the College of Marciac," while "Marciac Fun" is powered by the Afro-Caribbean rhythm supplied by drummer Herlin Riley and Roland Guerrero. Naturally, Marsalis's trumpet takes center stage throughout the recording, most notably on the mainstream swinger "Loose Duck" and on the midtempo "Sunflowers," with its intriguing optimistic melody and slightly dissonant railroad-horn riffs. All told, Wynton Marsalis has composed an aural postcard that shows off the swinging sights and sounds of his home away from home. --Eugene Holley Jr.
Wynton Marsalis' compositional aspirations are very grand, as proved by his immense works for jazz orchestra. Nonetheless, Marsalis remains far more effective when he keeps the scale small, as on The Marciac Suite (Columbia), written for septet and performed admirably by a now-familiar cast of his Lincoln Center cohorts (starring trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and reedmen Wes Anderson and Victor Goines).
Marsalis wrote the suite to celebrate his tenth annual appearance at Jazz In Marciac, a summertime festival in southwestern France. The suite's programmatic nature - with pieces dedicated to the festival site, the surrounding wine country, and various individuals - ideally suits his skills as a musical portraitist. Like his model and inspiration, Duke Ellington, Marsalis excels at miniatures and cameos, rather than the epic canvasses he seems to prefer. On The Marciac Suite, he's assembled a nicely varied collection of these smaller, self-contained pieces, and his combo performs them with robust pleasure. You won't hear anything new in Marsalis' writing or playing.
--Neil Tesser, JAZZIZ Magazine Copyright © 2000, Milor Entertainment, Inc. -- From Jazziz