|Take The “A” Train||5:36||Play|
|Black And Tan Fantasy||4:49||Play|
|Express Crossing (Live)||5:11||Play|
|Things To Come||4:35||Play|
|Boy Meets Horn||5:43||Play|
|Lost In Loveliness||3:12||Play|
|Back To Basics||10:19||Play|
Here to swing the performances selected for this document are part of our jazz mission at Lincoln Center, which is to present first class performances, regardless of style; to create a viable jazz canon: to provide education for young musicians and listeners and to build a jazz archive worthy of the music and the premier arts complex in America.
The national tours of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Manhattan concerts presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center feature musicians of various generations performing a repertoire notable for its varieties of mood and technique, the quality of the sound and the respectful amount of rehearsal preparation. The goal is that precision which gives passion its greatest freedom. Here is some worthy documentation. All of these performances took place right on the bandstand, which is where jazz musicians meet the public measure of the moment – the zone where composition, improvisation, and group interaction must achieve aesthetic balance and emotional penetration. The thunderous responses make it obvious that listeners across America know when muscle and sensitivity fuse to illuminate the evergreen meanings of blues and swing. It doesn’t matter whether the material is classic or brand new. The substance of a development that amounts to a renaissance continues to expand. Elevating the quality of American musicianship and providing listeners with the sorts of experiences that enrich the national consciousness. That is why every aspect of this recording adds more weight to the reaffirmation of the jazz legacy. A movement that has provided the most exciting succession of events in the last ten years of American performing art.
The recording also supplies us with metaphors for the future of America and American youth that are far from grim. If our nation follows the examples set by the combination of these past masters and these young musicians whether reaching down in the bucket for “jelly,jelly,” or up to the penthouse for “Tattooed Bride” we will experience a triumphant reassertion of the morality that as Ralph Ellison pointed out is an aspect of craft. If the nation inspires it’s young to arrive at the levels of impassioned, imaginative skill heard on “Express Crossing,” “Light Blue,” and “Back to Basics.” It will rise up like the mighty thing it is, its people realizing their identities through our particular brand of effort. The democratic collective asserting its strength through the quality of individual engagement. That is the story of jazz and that is why the beginning of this jazz movement , about 15 years ago, is so important to our moment.
These were real rebels. Not the fast food versions served up by the media and the frozen. French fried ideas driven by the unimaginative appetite for impotent shock found in our worst writers. Suddenly, it seemed. New York was filling up with young jazz musicians who thought for themselves and worked on their craft, rebelling against any notion of the jazz musician as unkempt, personally or musically. It wasn’t uncommon to observe them in the presence of their elders. No matter what style, humbly or jovially asking questions and listening, soaking up the technical aspects of the art and coming to terms with the human lore that underlay the invisible force of the music. When you saw them, they looked good and they worked hard at sounding good. These young artists weren’t interested in being mistaken for pop musicians or bush extras in Indiana Jones movies. Their presence reiterated the glamour and the finesse one could see when thumbing through any extensive book of jazz photographs. As Jon Hendricks observed at least ten years ago, a renaissance was in the making.
That renaissance is now sailing forward in a high wind because this generation of young jazz musicians understands that the power of the artistic past is not only prologue, it is timeless. No matter its point of origin, that timelessness contains the resonance of the fundamentals and maintains unlimited access to the vitality of all eras that come after it. The performances on this record often achieve that timelessness and are the work of musicians who came to swing. On track after track no matter the particulars of personnel – the brass section, the reeds, and the rhythm sections make it obvious that these are gatherings of some of the finest musicians to ever play jazz. So fine that not only are classic standards met but a few of the overall performances are superior to the originals which opens up a whole area for discussion better left to others.
Sir Roland Hanna begins things with a distinctive, modulating opening to Billy Strayhorn’s 1940 “Take The ‘A’Train.” Which became Duke Ellington’s theme song. The program is dominated by the work of Ellington and the expressive range of his pieces provides a superb aesthetic compass for the recording from early masterpieces like the 1927 “Black And Tan Fantasy” to the greatest jazz work of the late forties “Tattooed Bride.”
“Black And Tan Fantasy” makes obvious what is going on out here. There is a gully-low grit to the authority of the ensemble as well as the freshness within the language of the piece heard from Wynton Marsalis, Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Clearly, as with Lew Soloff’s feature on the preceding track: Jazz at Lincoln Center performers are not required to “recreate” recordings. They are free to bring their own identities to bear, which they are quite qualified to do over and over.
The 1993 “Express Crossing” is from Jazz: Six Syncopated Movements, the nationally acclaimed score Marsalis wrote for New York City Ballet. Recorded in performance at the New York State theatre. It’s nose thumbing counterpoint aggressive dissonance rhythmic complexity, and playfulness extend upon all jazz train pieces adding another high mark to the trumpeter’s position as perhaps the most accomplished leader of the jazz avant garde. At first, like Ellington’s 1934 “Daybreak Express” Marsalis’s train whizzes along on the chords of “Tiger Ras” but then moves to another set of harmonies that became popular in the 1920’s. The piccolo represents the high-pitched twist of the wind and the composer improvises with a peerless combination of joyous fluidity and swing.
“Light Blue” is a very special rendering of the shy but stubbornly lyrical Thelonious Monk composition which was arranged by Hall Overton for a 1963 concert at Lincoln Center in late December. Perhaps even more important to this art than Monk’s genius as a jazz composer was his playing. The profound influence of Monk’s thematic improvising is heard in the way so many musicians now think about ordering their material – playing variations on the theme that build logically. Focusing on central motifs, toying with the ryhythm, looking for the spikes in the harmony. All of the improvisers maintain close attention to thematic detail and the original. Fhythmic intricacy heard from Marsalis and Marcus Roberts goes beyond interpretations other than those of the master himself batting cleanup exquisitely. Roberts makes objective his front line position among young jazz piano player5s. The confidence Billy Higgins and Reginald Veal bring to the time and the form supplies the music with a dancing lilt. The motion of a fantasy ballroom in full romantic purr.
Ellington veteran Milt Grayson shows off his marvelous blues and crooning abilities on “Jelly, Jelly” and “Lost In Loveliness” The singers voice contains the tragic optimism that is the essence of morale. That quality allows Grayson to detain the wounds, the disappointments and the betrayals of an affair in one song and celebrate the sweetness and the heat of new love in another. That the effortlessly down home introduction to “Jelly, Jelly” is by Marcus Roberts allows the listener to experience another side of the big identity this musician has. The features for Jesse Davis, Nicholas Payon, and Bill Easley and turned to different blues stations by each player and the indigo roar of the entire band is deep, pure and unsentimental.
On a 1946 radio broadcast done on 52nd Street, the innovative trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie introduced his shocking piece, “Things To Come.” By dedicating it “to the master, Duke Ellington.” Gunther Schuller recently told this writer, “We were all stunned when we first heard it in the forties because we had never heard anything that fast. It was a breakthrough in Jazz velocity, articulation, rhythm, sound everything. Only Dizzy could have conceived it and only he could have played the trumpet solo at the time. It was beyond anyone else’s capabilities.” Brass iron man Jon Faddis who is also Musical Director of Carnegie hall jazz Band. Conducts and propels an extraordinarily hot version of the piece and delivers a feature only he could play. Jesse Davis unblinkingly accepts the flaming baton and the band screeches wild for a bit before closing out.
“Boy Meets Horn” wobbles with humor and the tag is something both Ellington and Rex Stewart (for whom he wrote this miniature concerto) would surely have loved. “Back to Rosies” is an excerpt from the highly celebrated commission. 1994’s Blood on the Fields an extended work of two and a half hours that was Marsalis’s meditation on American slavery. Sold out for its two nights. The work thrilled and startled with an array of technical demands that were in the epic service of its range of passion and ideas. The median age of this band is about 25 and most of the players are musicians Marsalis has met over the last decade or so, either in professional situations or at clinics. By bringing them to New York from across the country, the composer and contemporary plunger king let everybody know what time it is. Their swing and fire exhibit the kind of musicianship we had ceased expecting from players this age. After Marsalis sets up the almost sinister mockery of the theme, he ribs his way through exchanges with Reginald Veal, James Carter Ronald Westray, Wes Anderson and Victor Goines. Then Wycliffe Gordon and Robert Stewart play features before Russell Gunn initiates some trading with Marcus Printup. Ronald Westray’s feature precedes the return of Marsalis who, sparked by the ever-deepening groove, plays with a tragic comic surge and strut jazz trumpet hasn’t produced on this level perhaps since Louis Armstrong and Cootie Williams.
Coaxed. Driven, and stroked by the rhythm section, “Tattooed Bride” is a perfect closer. Overtly or through allusion, it uses all of the jazz fundamentals. 4’4 swing the blues, the ballad, and Afro Hispanic rhythms. This piece builds from a simple unit the way “Black ,Brown, and Beige” did. Here Ellington floats in with a tonally ambiguous mini-overture that is dark and nearly ominous. He then works with four notes. Turning them into melodies, riffs and stomping rhythms. He uses tempo changes for contrasts – parallels in momentum to his command of timbre. These are the manipulations of the Mount Everest of Americana in rhythm and tune. The greatness of this Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra comes through in a perfect melding of accuracy and fire. Nuance and lyricism. The swamp water that drips off of Bill Easley’s tone gives a fresh identity to a piece originally crafted for Jimmy Hamilton. This 1994 “Tattooed Bride’ is the kind of performance that would have lifted Ellington’s eyebrows and is here to let all know that the work of the grand masters will continue to be served up on bandstands- gutbucket-greasy, refined, and red hot.
Jazz at Lincoln Center_
Featuring Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis Big Band, Marcus Roberts, Jon Faddis, Sir Roland Hanna, Jesse Davis, Lew Soloff, Milt Grayson, Billy Higgins, and many others