Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

When: 1/21/08
Where: Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis
Who: Wynton Marsalis (music director, trumpet), Sean Jones, Ryan Kisor, Marcus Printup (trumpet), Vincent R. Gardner, Christopher Crenshaw, Elliot Maxon (trombone), Walter Blanding (tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet), Victor Goines (tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet), Sherman Irby (saxophones), Ted Nash (alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet), Joe Temperley (baritone and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet), Dan Nimmer (piano), Carlos Henriquez) bass), Ali Jackson (drums)

They came, we saw, they conquered. On a snowy night of bad roads and big traffic delays, it seemed that almost every ticket holder in the sold-out house made it to Orchestra Hall to see the world-famous Wynton and his amazing ensemble: 15 musicians, each capable of leading his own group (which some already do).

The program, "Love Songs of Duke Ellington," began with a solo by Marsalis that slid smooth as silk into the whole band playing "Mood Indigo," which Marsalis dedicated to Manny Laureano, principal trumpet for the Minnesota Orchestra. From there, we were carried on a satisfying ride through Ellington's work, interspersed with anecdotes and banter from Marsalis.

We heard "Satin Doll" and "Lady Mac" from Such Sweet Thunder, Ellington's 12-part suite based on the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare ("Lady Mac" being Lady MacBeth). The Marsalis brothers are fond of both the Duke and the Bard. In June of last year, Delfeayo brought his octet to Orchestra Hall and performed Such Sweet Thunder in its entirety, the first time that had happened since 1956, when Ellington did it himself.

From there: "Prelude to a Kiss," "Moon Over Cuba," "In My Solitude," "Old Man Blues" ("a piece written for a movie called Check and Doublecheck," Marsalis explained. "It's a terrible movie, don't see it"), "Creole Love Call," "Dance in Love" from Ellington's Perfume Suite (performed on piano and bass, with the horn players snapping their fingers), "Warm Valley" and "Flaming Sword" (two sides of an Ellington 78 written about "the greatest duet, a man and a woman going steady," Marsalis said, and everyone laughed). The trombones used derby mutes, and it looked like choreography, a doo-wop group fancy-stepping.

The program was generous and easy on the ears: familiar melodies, rhythms you could tap your feet to, lots of opportunities for individual members of this great band to show off. (Sean Jones didn't solo much but when he did, it was blistering.) We heard "Self Portrait of the Bean," a song Ellington wrote for Coleman Hawkins; Marsalis asked Goines if he would "put some of his feeling on this tune," and Goines responded "I will, sir!" then gave us a sultry solo. Ted Nash took the spotlight on "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart." They gave us a movement of the Queen's Suite, "The Single Petal of a Rose," with haunting bass clarinet, then ended with "Rockin' in Rhythm."

Some people left but the rest of us wouldn't so the band returned for a "C-Jam Blues" that was a concert in itself. The rhythm section took their places and everyone else lined up loosely along the front of the stage, passing solos like talking sticks. The music was so fine and the band looked so stylish and elegant that I wished everyone who doesn't like jazz or only likes smooth jazz or thinks jazz is dead could have been there. Marsalis has been accused of being too traditional, too strict about what he will and won't play, too bent on building a jazz repertoire, but he's bringing real jazz to a wider audience than anyone has since the days of swing.

Jazz at Lincoln Center

Photo by John Whiting.

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