It's time to abandon the notion that Wynton Marsalis's music is cerebral and bloodless. This record has got as much fire and down-home fervor as any jazz album since... well, since who knows when.
Marsalis built In This House on the structure of an African-American church service. The 115-minute composition winds its way from the stately overture "Devotional" through a fervent "Prayer" (featuring the great gospel singer Marion Williams) and a progressively fiery "Sermon" (its uptempo last section is the hottest bit of sanctified jazz since Ray Charles's 1950s Atlantic hits) to the funky sway of "Recessional" and the wistful waltz of "Benediction." If this music doesn't get you moving, check your pulse—you may be dead.
Marsalis's newfound funkiness is matched by a growing gift for invention. The melodies and motifs come spilling out, singable and sparkling; they vanish, recur, recombine, the composer weaving it all together with a magician's wink. Marsalis has the steepest learning curve in American music; at 32, he seems capable of limitless growth.
The sole lament is that this version of his band no longer exists—tenor saxophonist Todd Williams and powerhouse bassist Reginald Veal have since left. But drummer Herlin Riley and alto saxophonist Wes Anderson are two of the most powerful jazzmen working, and pianist Eric Reed (a minister's son gorgeously al home here) is a gifted 23-year-old. And of course, there's Wynton. As you may have heard, he dabbles a bit on trumpet. (Sony)"