Marsalis delivers a big-bang world-beat on Clevaland’s `Congo Square’
Worlds collided to wonderful effect when trumpeter Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and percussionist Yacub Addy’s Odadaa! ensemble shared the stage Monday evening at Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre.
They came together for a bravura performance of “Congo Square,” a joint venture in 16 movements, divided into two hour-long sets. The suite takes its name from a historic site in New Orleans where slaves gathered for music-making and dancing.
The concert, a benefit for the Cleveland Music School Settlement, was part of a 12-city tour.
“Folks got to crying when the levee broke,” Marsalis sang during the opening number, “Ring Shout/Kolomashi.” He was born and raised in New Orleans, whose struggles in the wake of Hurricane Katrina were the subject of a spirited call-and-response.
When he wasn’t firing off an effortlessly dazzling trumpet solo every now and then, Marsalis was content to conduct, dancing on the balls of his feet and punching the air for emphasis.
His well-oiled, 15-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra featured a couple of standouts with Northeast Ohio ties: saxophonist Walter Blanding Jr. and trumpeter Sean Jones.
In contrast to the tan Brooks Brothers suits worn by the orchestra, Ghanaian native Addy and the eight other members of his Odadaa! troupe were resplendent in colorful African robes.
The intricate polyrhythms they conjured on bells and exotic drums and their sunny vocal harmonies yielded a series of primal grooves, which Marsalis & Co. embellished with swinging blasts of muted Dixieland brass and lush woodwinds.
A raucous showstopper titled “War” gave way to “Hedzole Baba,” a moving prayer for peace, complete with the prettiest melody of the suite.
The music of “Congo Square” spanned continents and centuries, but it made a cohesive artistic statement about the resilience of the human spirit.
And like Paul Simon’s comparable “Graceland” album, this inspired quest for common ground ultimately led to spiritual uplift, via the penultimate movement, “Sanctified Blues.”
By then, concertgoers were on their feet, clapping and chanting. The musicians paraded off the stage with a reprise of the lively “Kolomashi” theme, while the rest of us left Playhouse Square and scattered into the humid night with the exuberant sounds of “Congo Square” still ringing in our ears.
– by John Soeder