From the Plantation to the Penitentiary
From the Plantation to the Penitentiary is Wynton Marsalis’ most overtly political release to date and is, simply put, brilliant. New singer Jennifer Sanon - winner 2003’s Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington competition - delivers impressively elegant vocals that will undoubtedly receive heavy comparison to Abbey Lincoln’s work with Max Roach (classics like “Freedom Now Suite and “Straight Ahead” immediately come to mind).
Marsalis certainly has a lot to say on this album. Those familiar with his opinions on hip-hop aren’t surprised by his blatant disdain for what he calls the culture’s “ghetto minstrelsy” and “thug life coons.” He makes it plain on the ballad “Love and Broken Hearts” that he’s fed up with the misogyny that, unfortunately, continues to prevail in much of popular hip-hop (“I ain’t your bitch I ain’t your ho, And public niggerin’ has got to go”, Sanon sings) and pleads for the resurgence of love and romance. On the closing track “Where Y’all At?” Marsalis dishes out his own brand of rap, which he recently defended as old New Orleans style, and calls on everybody from radical thinkers to conservatives to come out of hiding and stand against the madness.
Although From the Plantation to the Penitentiary suggests the human race is in danger of losing our souls to “Supercapitalism,” and points out the similarities between slavery and the current prison system and its effect on Black America, there is also a message of hope here. There is the sense that Marsalis, an unarguably gifted musician who is as serious about the current state of our world as he is about preserving and upholding jazz, believes we’ll get it right eventually. As Stanley Crouch points out in the liner notes, good and evil dance perilously close together and will continue to coexist, but “the proportions of that coexistence are always left up to us.”