An Evening Of Jazz Possessed

Never have such prodigious talents impressed so few at a Robert Mondavi Summer Jazz F estival event.
Five jazz geniuses – billed as VSOP II – assembled here to kick off the 14th annual jazz series Sunday night. But barely 800 aficionados turned out to experience this exceptional musicianship, probably the smallest audience on the groups current world tour that takes it to Europe and ends in Atlanta in August.

At 43, Herbie Hancock is a cornerstone of modern jazz. The pianist was an original member of the Miles Davis Quintet, between the years 1963 and 1968.

Wynton Marsalis, who just turned 20, and his brother, Branford, at age 21, are probably the most respected young jazz musicians on the scene today. Wynton’s trumpeting is virtuosic as hes a passionate young man extremely serious about his craft. Branford is the jazz world’s improvisational leader on soprano and also saxophone, hands down. In hip cat parlance, Branford Marsalis is Mr. Clean.
And what better rhythm section could one put together than the combination of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams? Enough said. In addition to the audiences marveling at all the talent on the stage, there is a recognition of the respect each of these musicians has for one anothers magic, making for an unbelievable rapport throughout a concert.

To give one an idea of whats going on in the minds of jazzs lenfants terribles, take the comments of Wynton Marsalis:
“I studied classical music because many black musicians were scared of this big monster on the other side of the mountain called classical music. I wanted to know what it was that scared everyone. I went into it and found out it wasnt anything but some more music.
“As far as both musics are concerned, I think I know its harder to be a good jazz musician than a classical one. In jazz, to be good means to be an individual, which you dont necessarily have to be in classical music performance.
“But because Ive played with orchestras and all that, some people think Im a classical musician who plays jazz. They have it backwards I’m a jazz musician who can play classical music.”

There were no doubts Sunday evening about the discipline from which Wynton Marsalis was coming. He played his shiny trumpet as if he were possessed. Although Sunday nights concert was a short one, j ust under 90 minutes, the audience didnt get the short shrift. Most of the pieces VSOP II performed were penned by its members, although they slipped in a Thelonius Monk tune to show off Hancocks dazzling pianistics at the close of the first set. Hancock also played and sang Happy Birthday to wintner Mondavi on the occasion of his 70th anniversary.

Hancock’s own “Maiden Voyage” kicked off the second half with a very clean sound served up by these consummate jazzsters. The only murky aspect of the evening was the sound system itself, as the pianos middle register came through as if the strings were being struck by a penny nail hammer.

Ron Carter’s “Opus One Point Five” proved a plaintive ballad that juxtaposed trumpet and piano in a back alley dirge. Of course, it also allowed its composer to show off his gargantuan talents.

For this listener, the second number of the evening showed VSOP II off to best advantage, a funky rhythm produced a doleful groove in Tony Williams’ “Sister Cheryl,” a tune thats also the highlight of Wynton Marsalis 1982 Columbia debut LP.

“I want to get the public to understand the real significance and beauty of the music, not by watering it down but by getting to such a place in my art that it will be obvious to all who listen that I’m coming from a great tradition,” declares Wynton Marsalis. Theres no doubt that all members of this tremendous touring ensemble come from tradition a tradition of serving up the best.

By L. Pierce Carson
source: The Napa Valley Register

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