Style: (From the liner notes) "Jazz, gospel, brass band, rhythm and blues, country, funk . . ."
Worldview: "These aren't all the styles played in the Crescent City, but they're the ones I wanted to play around with here. This recording is all about what New Orleans means to me."
Overall quality: Mardi Gras background music so good-natured and nostalgic that it never suggests the modern-day mayhem in the foreground.
Style: Breezily somnolent virtuosity for acoustic piano (Mehldau) and electric guitar, 42-string guitar, acoustic guitar, and guitar synthesizer (Metheny).
Worldview: Red-herring title: "Fear and Trembling" (nothing Kierkegaardian here); Give-away titles: "Secret Beach," "Santa Cruz Slacker," "The Sound of Water."
Overall quality: All too indisputable proof that Metheny and Mehldau have been at this sort of thing long enough now to be able to do it in their sleep.
Style: Standards (Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Sammy Cahn, Rogers & Hart, the Gershwins, et al.) modestly sung (Krall) and performed (the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra).
Worldview: A reminder that the American songbook is less about accompanying a "worldview" than it is about evoking a (the?) world.
Overall quality: A trifle dull, but better Krall than Rod Stewart or Carly Simon, and better these chestnuts than Krall's own compositions.
Style: Sophisticated lounge-jazz for veteran, smokey-voiced chanteuse (Crawford) and even more-veteran pop-jazz ivory tickler (Sample).
Worldview: "Invisible love affairs, imagined love affairs, tangible love affairs, love affairs, love affairs, love affairs" (the liner notes).
Overall quality: No flame but lots of smolder; ideal for romantic, candle-lit dinners in upscale settings, with covers of Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'" and Leo Sayer's "When I Need You" thrown in for the incorrigibly low brow.
Style: Two "ballads," an "8/4 groove, 6/8 naningo, 6/4 swing," a "modern habanera," an "alternating 2-beat country groove, soca, cumbia, swing," a "fast swing, Charleston, cha-cha, slow shuffle," and a "2nd-line swing with Motown vamp."
Worldview: "It ain't about black, and it ain't about white. / They'll get together to make your pocket light. / [. . .] Taxes, that's your real inalienable right."
Overall quality: A convincing musical case for freedom as responsibility.
Wynton Marsalis is so gifted that he sometimes sets goals too lofty even for himself. His three-disc history of slavery, Blood on the Fields, for instance, fails at a level of such complexity that it can take years to agree with critic Gary Giddins' assessment of it as one of those "oversized, strangely fascinating, hard-to-reproduce oddities" that make up the "tradition of American music's white elephants."
What distinguishes From the Plantation to the Penitentiary (Blue Note) from that herd is the playfulness of the Marsalis-led quintet and lightning-rod lyrics (sung mostly by newcomer Jennifer Sanon) that criticize contemporary black culture, from its vocabulary ("I ain't your bitch, I ain't your ho, / and public niggerin' has got to go") to its reliance on victimization as power ("Liberal students and equal-rights pleaders, / what's goin' on now that y'all are the leaders?"). The words wouldn't mean a thing, of course, if the music didn't have that swing. But it does. So they do.