Wynton Marsalis, ever the protagonist and explorer, brings his love of the spoken word and the adolescent relations of the male and female persuasion during He and She, a collection of instrumental mainstream jazz pieces with poetry as preludes. Inspired by the tone of the Jon Hendricks epic Evolution of the Blues Song, Marsalis uses math equations, the sun and the moon, and the budding affection of youth to frame his music -- mostly jazz waltzes -- into thematic conclusions based on getting along, and why the genders think differently. New pianist Dan Nimmer is a welcome addition to the quintet, while drummer Ali Jackson really shines and reliable saxophonist Walter Blanding asserts his increasing powers.
I do not know what fire burns in Wynton Marsalis’s belly, but it drives him to amazing and strange feats. Once upon a time, it drove him to learn and play his horn as no trumpeter had before him. It led him to master, truly, both jazz and classical styles, and then it led him to study and emulate the great compositions of Duke Ellington, eventually earning him a Pulitzer Prize for Blood on the Fields.
If Wynton Marsalis is serious about how much more girls know about life than boys do, which is a heavily flagged message of his fifth Blue Note album's spoken passages, then I'd like to hear him get the contemporary American composers Maria Schneider or Carla Bley write a concerto for him, and let his dazzling trumpet technique and tradition-driven improviser's imagination do the rest. It might mean a back seat for Marsalis - who has, since the 1990s, been considered by many as jazz's rejuvenating driver - but it could also be the best use of his true talent. The soloing on this album, themed on the relationship between man and woman, is immaculate.