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Wynton Marsalis
From The Plantation To The Penitentiary
Blue Note

By Doug Merlino

Published October 5, 2007

“It ain’t about the black/It ain’t about the white/They’ll both get together/ To make your pockets light,” Wynton Marsalis raps on “Where Y’all At?,” attacking civil rights leaders for selling out. And no, “raps” is not a typo, though Marsalis labels it “spoken word.” For the stalwart jazz traditionalist, this album of political songs is a departure, if an unsuccessful one. Young vocalist Jennifer Sanon sings Marsalis’s lyrics—set to the trumpeter’s usual swing—on five of the seven songs, taking on topics such as capitalism and thug life (“I ain’t your bitch/I ain’t your ho,” she croons, in one of the stronger couplets.) Instead of recalling What’s Going On?, though, Marsalis’s lyrics sound like a third-rate Stanley Crouch column. While we can agree there’s much wrong in America, vague laments like “hear my cries” are less instructive than the few times here where the band gets to stretch out and blow.

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