Wynton Marsalis - "Black Codes (From the Underground)" - Sony - 1985
For such a famous, world-renowned artist, it is surprising just how polarizing Wynton Marsalis has become. A staunch defender of the preservation of jazz, Marsalis has come under fire over the decades from his peers who feel his passion for conserving the stylings of jazz's architects -- Bird, Ellington, Coltrane, Miles -- has stifled innovation.
But before the controversy, before Marsalis's writings and rants about what jazz is and what jazz isn't, there was "Black Codes (From the Underground)." The 1985 album, recorded when Marsalis was just 23 years old, is a deftly arranged high mark of Marsalis's career, a sterling example of how good jazz can sound.
The "Young Lions" lineup -- brother Branford Marsalis on the sax, Charnett Moffett and Ron Carter on bass, Jeff Watts on drums, and Kenny Kirkland on piano -- is as impressive as it is precise throughout the album. Branford's sax sings on "Aural Oasis" and channels Wayne Shorter on "For Wee Folks," and Wynton on trumpet lives every bit up to Miles Davis, the master Wynton is most often measured against.
Don't focus on the debate surrounding Wynton Marsalis when listening to "Black Codes." Close your eyes instead and appreciate this testament to the early, shining period when jazz reigned supreme.