"It's easy to love people you don't know," teases trumpeter Wynton Marsalis during some bandstand banter included on this sparkling multi-CD box set. Then, acknowledging jazz luminaries in the audience—Cassandra Wilson, Sweets Edison, Joshua Redman—he adds, "But these are people we know, and we still love them."
Recorded over a five-year span in the early '90s by three overlapping Marsalis septets, the Vanguard set offers 8½ hours of astonishingly consistent and creative live performances. All were recorded at the Manhattan club whose warm crowd and superb acoustics—even its odd shape—have made it a jazz shrine for 65 years now. The septet shines on vehicles as diverse as Billy Strayhorn's "Midnight in Paris," Thelonious Monk's "Evidence" and even "Happy Birthday," with standout work from pianist Eric Reed, drummer Herlin Riley and Marsalis himself. You can listen to these cats all week and still love them.