This gripping 3-CD masterpiece is perhaps Wynton Marsalis's most stunning album to date. Not only is the execution of the music top notch, but the themes of the songs themselves do a superb job of capturing the very element that was the impetus behind these compositions. For example, it can sometimes be difficult to sit through "Forty Lashes" because Herlin Riley's drumwork is that powerful.
"Blood on the Fields" has a little bit of everything crammed into it. There are blues, ballads, high octane bop, and even dirges. The first two discs are especially strong. Cassandra Wilson, John Hendricks, and Miles Griffin sing passionately. Perhaps the strongest pieces are "You Don't Hear No Drums," "Move Over," "Soul For Sale," and "Plantation Coffle March." On the second disc, "God Don't Like Ugly" reaches a rare level of intensity that is reminiscent of "Holy Ghost" on "In This House, On This Morning."
Wynton does an excellent job of showcasing his compositional genius with this album, and the orchestra does an excellent job showcasing its technical talent. There are some stunning riffs, stratospheric cadences, and light-speed ensemble passages to study.
There are, however, two weaknesses to this otherwise brilliant piece of work. The third disc in particular is not as engaging as the first two are. The songs don't convey the same degree of intensity, and the songs themselves are largely devoid of any real action. The other minor gripe is the reading of the passages between some songs. The passages aren't read in complete unison, so it seems raggedy.
Despite these two issues, the lion's share of the music in this 3-CD set is brilliant, intense, and well-executed. It is definitely deserving of a serious listen, not just for its musical merits, but also for its historical and educational significance.