“Jazz music is the perfect metaphor for democracy.”
So declares Wynton Marsalis — trumpeter, composer, Jazz at Lincoln Center artistic director — in a press announcement for his new album, The Democracy! Suite.
Due out on Blue Engine Records on Jan. 15, it was recorded in The Appel Room at Frederick P. Rose Hall during lockdown, by a seven-piece band pulled from the ranks of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Here below, in a WBGO exclusive, is video footage of the album’s lead single: “Out Amongst the People (for J Bat).” It features solos by all but one member of the band: Walter Blanding on soprano saxophone, Obed Calvaire on drums, Marsalis on trumpet, Dan Nimmer on piano, Ted Nash on alto saxophone, and Elliot Mason on trombone. (Though he doesn’t have a solo, bassist Carlos Henriquez is crucial to the buoyant feel of the tune.)
The dedication in the song’s title refers, of course, to pianist Jon Batiste — like Marsalis, a proud product of Kenner, La., best known these days as bandleader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and the core musical figure behind Pixar’s SOUL. During the height of social justice protests earlier this year, Batiste was often in the streets, leading joyful yet pointed marches with music out front.
For his part, Marsalis has never shied away from sociopolitical commentary, and he was especially vocal this year — taking aim with his satirical opus The Ever Fonky Lowdown; weighing in on cable news shows; fleshing out ideas in conversation with Christian McBride on Jazz Night in America.
The Democracy! Suite is, on one hand, a less provocative statement than any of the above, due to the fact that it’s an instrumental album. But with song titles like “Ballot Box Bounce” and “Sloganize, Patronize, Realize, Revolutionize…,” it’s still trenchant, and true to Marsalis’ natural inclinations.
It is also, however, a substantially scaled-back effort by Wyntonian standards: a combo outing instead of an orchestral vehicle, with a total running time of 45 minutes. (The Ever Fonky Lowdown clocks in just under two hours.) The crisp writing and spirited execution on the album are sure to be welcomed by fans of Marsalis’ solo work.
And if the release of The Democracy! Suite seems well timed to the inauguration of a new American president, that’s clearly intentional. Marsalis, never the type to ease up on the pressure, poses a rhetorical in the album press release: “The question that confronts us right now as a nation is, ‘Do we want to find a better way?’”
The Democracy! Suite releases on Blue Engine Records on Jan. 15; preorder here.