Wynton Marsalis turned up at Disney Hall Monday night, leading his quintet of like-minded musicians, backing the lustrous-voiced young singer Jennifer Sanon, keeping his vaunted horn skills in shape. With all that he has to do these days — running Jazz at Lincoln Center, composing, teaching, writing, proselytizing, helping out with the rebuilding of New Orleans — it’s amazing that he still has the time and energy to go out on the road. Yet it was a modest 90-minute set by his standards — resolutely, obstinately conservative in idiom, basically showing the flag before dashing off to the next gig or project or meeting.
Well, something had to give, for it would have been difficult for Marsalis to keep up the mad musical pace that he once set, culminating in the crazy year 1999 in which he got Sony to release 15 discs of new material. Since signing with Blue Note a few years ago, his output has been meager — just one studio CD, a soundtrack and a live gig held over from 2002.
On the other hand, although there have been no grandiose, boundary-stretching recordings since “All Rise,” Marsalis did present much new material Monday and hinted that there is more. Indeed, he expressed some frustration that his current label wouldn’t release his projects as fast as he could record them.
One of them, offered as an encore, appears to be another of those occasional fits of social rage that seize Marsalis now and then. It’s a song called “Super-Capitalism,” a fragmented thing with a lyric that complains about out-of-control greed. One never knows for sure when Wynton is kidding, but he said it was from a larger work allegedly titled “From The Plantation To The Penitentiary” (a sequel to his slavery oratorio, “Blood On The Fields”?).
Another new one hectored us from a different direction, “It’s Time For The Return Of Romance,” sincerely spouting every romantic cliche in such profusion that it almost became a parody. What the piece really needed was a memorable tune — and that never came.
From the recent past came a well-drilled rendition of the suite “The Magic Hour,” with Wynton playing rapid-fire bop with his usual nimble touch — and there was a blues endurance test at an impossibly fast clip, “Sparks,” in which all on board easily passed. Walter Blanding, Jr.’s dusky tenor sax hinted at Hank Mobley; pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Carlos Henriquez, and drummer Ali Jackson deftly formed what Wynton pointedly called “our equal-opportunity rhythm section” (this in reference to earlier controversies about alleged hiring policies at Lincoln Center).
Everything swung, the musicianship was sound, Wynton was an ingratiating, personable host. But nothing really soared.