Picks and Pans Review: Citi Movement

updated 03/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Wynton Marsalis Septet

Like a 30-year-old scotch, "Ellingtonian" is an adjective that should be broken out only when nothing less will do. So let's unfold the stepladder and reach up, for Marsalis' new two-CD set merits an Ellingtonian toast.

Citi Movement is the finest work Marsalis has yet issued on record. Its sustained focus and expressive richness are owed in part to its origins as a suite composed for choreographer Garth Fagan, who presented it onstage in 1991 as Griot New York. Marsalis obviously thrives on the discipline of writing for dance: His recently premiered JAZZ, for the New York City Ballet, is another stunner.

Citi Movement and JAZZ also owe their imaginative intensity to some Ellingtonian qualities. As Duke did in Black, Brown and Beige and other suites (or as Debussy did in La Mer or Tchaikovsky in the 1812 Overture), Marsalis in these works uses music as metaphor, to tell a story and suggest images. The two hours of Citi Movement are divided into three sections. "Cityscape" presents a day in the life of a bustling metropolis, from honking morning traffic to couples trysting after dark. "Transatlantic Echoes" reflects on the primitive origins of man. Finally, "Some Present Moments of the Future" fast-forwards to an apocalyptic landscape in which swing survives as a life-affirming rhythm.

In style, the music spins off from the chromatic richness of the '50s and '60s Ellington bands, with echoes of Charles Mingus. Ultimately, it's Marsalis' own thing. Spritely, ravishing, rhythmically varied, Citi Movement is absorbing even if you don't know about the underlying script (and you may not from reading the liner notes).

Also Ellingtonian is the level of playing by all hands. Despite their youth, Marsalis, Todd Williams (tenor and soprano sax), Wes Anderson (alto sax), Wyclifle Gordon (trombone), Eric Reed (piano), Reginald Veal (bass) and Herlin Riley (drums) are a cohesive, much-traveled team. Citi Movement's success—like that of the great Ellington recordings—is inseparable from the individuality and virtuosity of every instrumental voice. Constantly testing and pressing each other, they'd make the Duke proud. (Columbia)

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