Trumpeter and bandleader Wynton Marsalis obviously knew his album From the Plantation to the Penitentiary (released March 7 on Blue Note) would be an “event” — as the saying goes — long before it hit stores. Determined to make something for the masses, Marsalis posted the whole thing on his Blue Note site, accompanied by a video (reposted on Amazon.com) in which the trumpeter breaks every single track down to its essential message and calls hip-hop’s newest spate of “ghetto minstrels” on their shit. (“Say you could live to be 200 years old, you came in in 1800,” he says. “You were 165 years old before you could even legally do a lot of things … that first 65 years they were in America it was like man, ‘Welcome. This is what we got for you.’ Then somebody made fun of the fact that you were that way for the next hundred years. You were like a national joke.”)
In trying to characterize the album, many reviewers dwell on the final track, “Where Y’All At?” in which Marsalis half-raps, half-sermonizes about why he’s so pissed off about the state of civil rights in America, and in the world. Such critical acumen has not yet been evidenced in hip-hop — well, not since the last extremely earnest and irony-deficient stab by ersatz “conscious rapper” Cornell West.
The real star to emerge from Plantation, though, is jazz vocalist Jennifer Sanon, who became a Marsalis disciple after garnering critical acclaim at the 2003 Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival. Sweet and soft-spoken — recent searches for a dishy MySpace page or other Googleable skeletons in the closet yielded nothing — she’s a more fragile version of Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan. Click here to watch Sanon’s interview and performance at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, London.