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A Visitor From the West Takes Charge of the Band

The concert’s first part had been history-rich, admirably nondogmatic and, as performance, a little dry. Led by Wynton Marsalis, it ranged from the heavy-gauge work of auteurish bandleaders like Stan Kenton and Charles Mingus to film-industry jobs (Henry Mancini’s theme to “The Pink Panther,” with the warm, fat-toned tenor saxophonist Plas Johnson, who recorded the original version), to Kid Ory and Alex Hill, two jazz musicians and composers of the 1920’s who settled in Los Angeles.

But Mr. Wilson made the show an exclamation point. He stalked the front of the stage, his white mane turned to the audience and his piercing eyes trained on the band. His body was tuned to the music — dislodging rich, overstuffed harmonies of brass and reeds and quelling them, socking his right fist into his left hand to drive the rhythm section harder, ending songs crisply. He squeezed the potential out of the band and led it through a set of his own music, written over the last 40 years, since he became a bandleader for the second time in the 1960’s.

Previous to that, in the 1950’s, Mr. Wilson had gone behind the scenes — as an arranger for Duke Ellington, among others, but also in Hollywood. The feeling of staff-orchestra jazz, a sound most Americans over 30 have in the back of their heads from film and television, is central to Mr. Wilson’s work: his music is rich and driving, well tailored and swanky, full of unfolding detail. (One of the pieces he played, “Jeri,” recorded in 1961, has a figure in its bridge that would be echoed a decade later in the theme song to “The Price Is Right.”) Like Ellington, his greatest influence, he specializes in tone poems — for family members, for places, for bullfighters. And he respects the demands of popular art. He doesn’t overestimate your patience.

He likes bravado and encouraged Mr. Marsalis to show the audience what he could do on trumpet. Mr. Marsalis was featured in “Carlos,” a musical portrait of the Mexican matador Carlos Arruza from the mid-60’s with a tonal atmosphere similar to that of the Gil Evans-Miles Davis album “Sketches of Spain.”

Mr. Wilson gets his drama out of harmony and dynamics, and Mr. Marsalis rose to the occasion, matching the tension of the piece with a tight solo, ending with whistling glissando figures. Exhausted, he took a bow. “Mr. Marsalis must take another bow,” Mr. Wilson ordered, with a flourish. And he did.

“Central Avenue Breakdown” repeats tonight at 8 at the Rose Theater, 60th Street and Broadway; (212) 721-6500.

by Ben Ratliff
Source: New York Times

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  1. Where can I get a recording of the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra doing “Jack the Bellboy”?

    Carahallie Morzaht on Apr 17th, 2009 at 9:48pm

  2. oh ouah, thank you, you are going to make me blush JG. Yes I was thinking about it, but mostly I was buzzzy, but could not let it go and forget about it. I do apologize for my delay.

    Frederique on Mar 15th, 2006 at 7:08pm

  3. You waited so long to post your review. So much time spent soaking it all in, absorbing it and the result is a wonderful and deeply moving tribute to the music and the artists who performed that night. Music/art does touch the soul; it really does let us know we are human and capable of beautiful things. Thank you for renewing this feeling in me again today. Your words are so inspiring.


    Jurzy Girl on Mar 15th, 2006 at 10:15am

  4. It was a blast Saturday night 2-25!
    In the first half, we were treated to a selection of LA composers which gave us a little taste of the various beauties that came from the “left” cool and warm coast!
    Lionel Hampton, when he was still a drummer with “Jack the Bellboy”, a nice jumper and tightly executed, then one or two tunes (which I did not catch the titles). We had the privilege to “go to the movie” with Mr. Mancini’s “Pink Panther” and his Master Plas Johnson, with his fat tenor sound and soulful inflections. I would have happily take more of his expressive escapades.
    Then we went into a “cooler” sound with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker “Bernie’s Tune”. Terry Gibbs had us with “Fatman”. Ted Nash, from a long established LA musicians family and now with the LCJO, gave us the beautiful moody original entitled “Sisters”, with his own tasty solo. The first half finished with Stan Kento joking title “A concerto to end all concertos”!
    Overall the execution was tight and balanced, and the selection only opened your appetite for more (may be at a later time?).

    But in the second part, we were taken on one of the most beautiful colorful and lively ride that big band music can give you, with the huge sophisticated creative mind of Gerald Wilson, now 87 years old going for 60!,playing his music spanning the last 40 years. His rich harmonies (8 parts instead of the usual 4 as he told us in the lecture that same afternoon), combined with different lines going on creatively at the same time, showed us awesomeness in its UTMOST magnificence!!!!!

    Then a Matador tune “Viva Tirado”, and a tune for each of his daughters, “Jeri”, “Terry” and “Nancy Jo”. Maestro Wilson was conductin the orchestra with his hands like if they were rackets, and the orchestra was a tennis ball. He got them tightly roaring and they seem to be going in perfect symbiosis with the intensity desired. A regal of mastery in the execution of rich and musical dareness. What a blast!
    On a spanish inspired tune, “Carlos” (for a Mexican matador), Mr. Marsalis happily obliged Maestro Wilson with total trumpet bravado and musical creativity in sync with the “bull” ;-), and with unexpected and even more potent glissandos to or from (sorry I don’t remember) the high hills of the trumpet register (outstanding, 10 ……..stars).
    we were then transported to the Monterey Jazz Festival with the two awesome commissioned anniversary pieces he wrote (which brought him two Grammys if I recall correctly).
    Another commissioned tune for a California University, and his latest “Blues for Manhattan” recently recorded in New York.
    We got beautiful solos throughout the concert, from Marcus Printup, Dan Nimmer (leaning toward being demented at times!), Ted Nash and Ryan Kysor (who sounded a little shy). Shoter ones included Vincent Gardner, Victor Goines, Joe Temperly (even AWEsome sound), Walter Blanding and a sub trombone player (sorry no name was mentioned!).

    Please do yourself a favor and be selfish! Tell your friends that, if they don’t want to die ignorant, they ought to listen to Gerald Wilson inventions. If they don’t and if YOU don’t, you will truly be missing out on one of the WONDER of the WORLD!!!! Yes I really MEAN that!!! It is like not having seen the Grand Canyon at sunrise and sunset. A symphony of sounds letting us in the sophistication of musical human imagination and feelings, versus a symphony of colors.

    What a treat that was! When I got out of there, I felt privileged to have experienced in my flesh and bones, this Grand First Class Musical Escapade by a true master. Thank you Mr. Wilson. Like somebody said as I was walking out of the building, What a Gem!
    Thank God it was recorded.

    Frederique on Mar 15th, 2006 at 2:44am