Ahhh, "the changes." Long the bane of avant-garde improvisers, the reliance jazz musicians have on blues changes has, some feel, limited the genre to a state of permanent creative stasis. Trumpeter Malachi Thompson disagrees, equating "the blues" to a sort of blackness that must be an innate part of jazz, lest it be "divorced" from the music's African roots. Puritanical arguments aside, it's difficult to buy his theory, when the music on "Blue Jazz" is both retrograde and revisionist. Long a proponent of the "freebop" movement and, on this album, a champion of new sounds in the big band arrangements, Thompson is a pre-eminent player, with a profound grasp of the possibilities of both composition and improvisation. But treating the blues as some sort of back-to-Africa conceit is nothing but self-defeating. Not to say that "the changes" shouldn't be a part of jazz; that's like saying 4/4 shouldn't be part of rock music. Foundations are foundations. But holding up each stage in a culture's creative progression as an essential paradigm is inherently limiting. Imagine if all contemporary music had to incorporate every "traditional" element that ever factored into its genesis, lest it be considered "impure." Growth means sloughing off elements of the past and, sadly, on "Blue Jazz" Thompson's style ultimately comes off as a more fiery version of Wynton Marsalis' classicism. Sure, Thompson and crew turn in excellent performances here, but they're ultimately empty, leaning so heavily as they do on nostalgia.
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