In the post-Miles Davis generation of horn players, New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis has become the legitimate successor for bringing this instrument to today’s audiences. Hot House Flowers, originally released in 1984, a Grammy Award year for Marsalis, is a collection of some jazz standards that have been embraced by nearly all of the top artists at one time or another. Backed by Wynton’s quintet comprised of brother Branford on tenor and soprano sax, flutist Kent Jordan, pianist Kenny Kirkland, bass player Ron Carter and drummer Jeff Watts and seasoned with a discreet string section, we get arrangements by Robert Freeman that are well balanced, not syrupy and, most importantly, that give the Marsalis trumpet the freedom to sing.
The playlist will certainly be familiar to those who attracted to romantic ballads:
- Stardust (4:10)
- Lazy Afternoon (5:06))
- For All We Know (6:18)
- When You Wish Upon A Star (4:43)
- Django (4:53)
- Melancholia (5:12)
- Hot House Flowers (5:48)
- I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You) (5:41)
Hearing John Lewis’s “Django” played like this by a then 22-year-old Marsalis almost makes one forget that it was not originally written for the trumpet, it sounds so natural in his hands. Although most of the selections fall into the romantic almost dreamy category, “I’m Confessin’” and “Django” bring a sense of swing that adds a welcome mood change to the program.
Sony recordings did not always provide demonstration quality sound and this one in its DSD64 format does the best that it can with 30-year old material that gives prominence to the soloist and keeps much of the accompaniment in the background. The soundstage is broad if not exceptionally deep and the details of the sidemen’s instruments are not as clear as they might be in a live concert (the strings, piano and drum kit are pretty distant). Nonetheless, we get a great sounding display of the Marsalis horn and that is really what this album is all about.
No cover art or liner notes are included (you can pick them up on Wynton’s homepage, www.wyntonmarsalis.org).
The Definitive Word
Almost any Wynton Marsalis recording is self-recommending and Hot House Flowers definitely falls into that category. This album was originally released as an LP and a CD. I have heard the latter and I can tell you that this download taken from an SACD cutting master is far superior in every respect. While the Marsalis horn is placed quite forward in the soundstage, this is the reason that most will buy this album. Just a beautiful program with tasteful string accompaniment and the genius that Wynton already possessed at the beginning of what has now become a legendary career.