The nearly peerless playing of young trumpet trailblazer Wynton Marsalis is a sublime joy for the contemporary jazz listener. What a shame that his appearance Saturday night at d.c. space was marred by carelessness that a mere turn of a knob could have rectified: drums so overmiked that it was all but impossible to discern the contribution of pianist Kenny Kirkland and tenor/alto saxophonist Eric Person.
Marsalis, featured with drummer Ronny Burrage's quintet, fortunately was provided proper sound level, a happenstance that aided him in what has become one of his signature devices, mike-swallowing that produces Rex Stewart-like buzzes and hollow resonances that prickle the scalp. Indeed, Marsalis' arsenal of timbral effects, his ability to shape phrases, his metrical sureness, his feeling for the tradition and his sense of humor make him an inevitable choice as trumpet voice for the '80s.
In several solos, Person acquitted himself well under the difficult circumstances with an approach that combined alternately caressing lilt and rambunctious wailing. Bassist Avery Sharpe, for whose solos Burrage rested his sticks, brought the house down with a journey across the strings that howled, whined, droned and concluded with some Pops Fosterian slaps capped with termite-sized pings. Happily, Kirkland's reputation as an audacious player of note need not suffer from one evening's inaudibility. Burrage's originals, a large part of the opening show, bespeak a talent for composition.