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Jazzfest review: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis in Ottawa

On a day when the leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico were engaged in high-level talks in Ottawa, a more informal international jazz summit took place in Confederation Park.

Wednesday night on the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival’s main stage, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra invited members of the Moscow Jazz Orchestra, who have their own festival concert Thursday, to play with them.

As he was closing his own concert, Marsalis magnanimously invited his Russian counterpart, saxophonist Igor Butman, and “all of his cats, whoever wants to come up,” to join in on Horace Silver’s Señor Blues.

“We’re going to have our brothers sit in and play with us,” Marsalis said. About a half dozen Russian musicians took the trumpeter up on his offer, stepping up to the microphone to play.

It was a fine, memorable display of jazz’s spontaneity and openness, entirely consistent with the JALC Orchestra’s role as ambassadors for jazz.

For almost 30 years, the Manhattan-based big band has charged itself with a mission statement that might strike some as overly lofty. More than a gig, jazz for Marsalis and company is about entertaining, yes, but also about spreading the gospel about jazz’s virtues, of which improvising, swinging and its blues foundation are central.

This can strike some as old-fashioned, limiting and perhaps too serious. But to be blasé about Marsalis and the JALC Orchestra is to be blasé about jazz, as the Orchestra demonstrated in the park.

The jazz-star trumpeter, 54, and his 15-person ensemble backed up their mission statement and then some with potent, passionate, superbly crafted music.

The Orchestra’s first two pieces were true-to-mission canonical, with Marsalis calling on the orchestra to perform Thelonious Monk’s Epistrophy and then Duke Ellington’s Lady Mac.

The former had been zippily arranged, beginning with a reggae-ish groove before snapping into rangy swinging. The Ellington piece, a waltz from the maestro’s Such Sweet Thunder, was classy and evocative, rich with saxophone vibrato.

No piece was more classic and historical than a mid-concert rendition of George Gershwin’s Summertime, which Marsalis noted in detail was a transcription of an arrangement by the seminal New Orleans saxophonist Sidney Bechet.

But the orchestra also branched out with the much more modern Chick Corea minor blues Wigwam. Then, the composing talents of orchestra saxophonist Ted Nash came under the spotlight with his piece inspired by the paintings of abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.

The group executed these and other pieces with stunning precision and feeling. And when it was time for soloists to stray from the page and improvise, they were no less impressive.

Marsalis gets top billing, and he soloed with abandon and daring. But his colleagues were no less formidable. Pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Carlos Enriquez and drummer Ali Jackson were sterling accompanists and soloists, and the great horn players were just too numerous to mention.

But as striking as the individual achievements were, they were subordinate to the orchestra’s greater, nobler cause of waving the flag for jazz.

by Peter Hum
Source: Ottawa Citizen

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