This week I review some retrospective material set to be released by Sony/Legacy by legends Paul Simon and Wynton Marsalis.
Paul Simon, "Over the Bridge of Time"
This single disc CD, released last week by Sony, basically mixes Simon's stellar work with Simon and Garfunkel as well as his own amazing solo career.
Simon's career as always has been about being a songwriter as well as a performer, and this retrospective clearly was compiled for that reason. It also dovetails in nicely with the "Complete Works of Paul Simon," which also recently was released by Sony.
While the complete album collections spans 15 discs, this single disc is a pretty good snapshot of Simon's career, which is to say this is a greatest hits collection.
The disc begins with seven prime Simon and Garfunkel tunes, including "The Sound of Silence," "America," "The Boxer," "Cecilia," "The Only Living Boy in New York" and, of course, the masterpiece "Bridge Over Troubled Waters."
As Simon and Garfunkel broke up, Simon took a new direction in the 1970s but really didn't hit his stride as a top-notch songwriter until "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover," which was a radical departure for the bard from his early days with Garfunkel. The shining jewel of Simon's career, "Graceland," is undoubtably the finest album in his career, and two hits from the African-inspired album are here, including "Diamonds in the Soles of Her Shoes" and "You Can Call Me Al."
There are other songs culled from "Hearts and Bones," "Rhythm of the Saints" and "So Beautiful, So What," all worthy of hearing and pondering. Of course, all of this has been released before in many forms, and these songs are familiar to generations. Still, it's never a bad thing to have one disc with the cream of an artist's best work, and "Over the Bridge of Time" finely profiles Simon's legacy.
Wynton Marsalis, "The Spiritual Side of Wynton Marsalis"
Set to be released next week by Columbia/Legacy, "The Spiritual Side of Wynton Marsalis" is a single-disc compilation of works involving the trumpet master in various jazz and classical settings.
Almost all of this material previously was released by Columbia at some point in his long career. To be quite honest, Marsalis really has led the jazz parade from extinction since the death of Miles Davis, and he's done so admirably.
Spiritualism and jazz go hand in hand, and saxophonist John Coltrane's last years inspired many jazzmen to express their inner connection to a Higher Power with his masterwork "A Love Supreme" and all his later recordings on the Impulse! label. Then there were the "free" jazz artists such as Albert Ayler, who used his horn to paint ecstatic visions of his feelings for the divine. Others followed in Coltrane's footsteps, and all of a sudden there were dozens of jazz artists blowing their horns on bended knee.
Marsalis - who I would call a traditionalist through and through - also has released versions of classic spirituals and classical works dedicated and inspired by a Christian deity. I can't quite honestly say I really like all of Wynton's material, and even his approach to jazz at times. To me, he plays the music with a precision that sometimes sacrifices soulfullness in place of technique. It leaves me a little cold.
The great players from the 1920s through the early 1970s didn't do that, and much of their playing was learned "on the street." I feel sometimes Wynton approaches the music before him with a little too much reverence - it would be cool to hear him just let loose now and then instead of always striving for perfection.
Wynton could use a good dose of funk, and I find that same sentiment to be the same on "The Spiritual Side." While the early spiritual jazz masters devoted themselves to the freedom that all things are possible and God-driven, Marsalis again takes the careful approach instead of letting his inner god scream to the heavens.
Still, I'm grateful to Wynton for, at times, reminding America about its own classical music and its wonderful history and his tireless work to keep jazz alive. "The Spiritual Side of Wynton Marsalis" is a great snapshot of an artist who takes his music seriously and beyond.