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Marsalis chimes in with playful 'Magic Hour'

It's appropriate that children helped inspire several tunes on Wynton Marsalis's new CD, "The Magic Hour," a swinging little grab bag of stripped-down playfulness that comes out today.

The recording marks something of a rebirth for the trumpet superstar. The CD is his first for Blue Note Records and his first since parting ways (for jazz recordings, at any rate) with Columbia/Sony after a two-decade run that produced more than 30 jazz albums, several classical ones, nine Grammy Awards, and jazz's first Pulitzer Prize.

"The Magic Hour" suggests an aesthetic rebirth for Marsalis as well. Or at least a distinct change of focus from intensely ambitious efforts such as his 1997 Pulitzer-winning oratorio "Blood on the Fields," his 1999 septet effort "The Marciac Suite," and 2002's "All Rise," his extended composition for big band, gospel choir, and symphony orchestra.

For this release, Marsalis, 42, has returned to basics, with a
Go to to hear audio clips of "The Magic Hour."crackerjack new quartet featuring pianist Eric Lewis, bassist Carlos Henriquez, and drummer Ali Jackson and guest appearances by singer-ringers Dianne Reeves and Bobby McFerrin. The music, all but one of the eight tunes penned by Marsalis, is deceptively simple. And Marsalis and company play it with obvious enjoyment. The CD opens with Duke Ellington's "Feeling of Jazz," with proselytizing (but nonetheless pleasing) lyrics by Marsalis tacked on and sung with panache by Reeves. What makes the piece, though, is the leader's muted trumpet trading earthy riffs with the singer's voice. At times, the two artists even conjure up memories of Ella Fitzgerald's collaborations with Louis Armstrong.

McFerrin scats effectively, too, on the catchy "Baby, I Love You" and contributes the song's jaunty but otherwise ignorable lyrics.

"You and Me" has a casually ambling melody built around segments of Marsalis and Jackson clapping out the rhythm with their hands. "Free to Be" is more up-tempo, coupling nursery rhymes and Kansas City blues.

The CD both concludes and peaks with the title track. Composed of several movements, it opens with a free-jazz sprint sounding a little like "The Flight of the Bumblebee."

What exactly is "The Magic Hour"? "For kids," it's "the one hour before they go to bed," Marsalis says in promotional notes sent out by Blue Note. "For parents, the one hour after the kids go to sleep."

Whatever else it might be, "The Magic Hour" is Marsalis's most pleasurable CD in years.

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