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

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  1. Stanley, Congo Square will be performed next year for the New Orleans festival.

    Luigi on Oct 9th, 2008 at 3:51am

  2. Is Congo Square still touring and if so where can I find dates and cities. If not can you notify me if tour resume

    Stanley Curry on Oct 8th, 2008 at 11:56pm

  3. Why are these writing “Sorry”?

    Karen on Jul 9th, 2007 at 12:15pm

  4. Sonali, we are going to post the video from Tavis Smiley Show in the next hours.

    Luigi Beverelli on Jun 22nd, 2007 at 4:14pm

  5. Enjoying the reviews. Did anyone catch Wynton’s appearance on the Tavis Smiley show on PBS last night? He was talking about Congo Square and people he met after the Cleveland show. It was a very good interview.

    Sonalii on Jun 22nd, 2007 at 12:06pm

  6. Absolutely lovely!


    careba on Jun 21st, 2007 at 1:11pm

  7. watch it

    Wynton with Carlos Henriquez Jr.

    Jason P. on Jun 21st, 2007 at 12:09pm

  8. Cleveland was lovely as Wynton is hitting his stride in this piece. It’s an act of delicate balance to conduct and play in the Congo Square. A few of the piece have are at the level that Mr. Marsalis can sit out for the duration of the song up in a 5th chair in the trumpet line.

    I am excited to see an increase in the number of selections that Wynton participates in musically, and I mean by playing his own horn! In Rochester, he played twice, maybe three times with standard solos set amongst the arrangements of the songs. In Cleveland, the solos are becoming the songs!!!! And I love it.

    Kwabena Nketia, the preeminent ethnomusicologist academically noted for standardizing Ghanaian traditional forms, holds that the aesthetics of Ghanaian performance are met when dance and music are both present in the performance. Now, let me say, my friend Wynton can get down with the best of them. His dance has a little Ghana, a little New Orleans, and lot of trumpet, a true Congo Square mix.

    Now, if only they would play Sunday Market…

    Karen on Jun 21st, 2007 at 8:39am

  9. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!to master musicians as well as to a lucky audience.

    I’m feeling absolutely GREEN!!!!….no chance of attending at any of soo far venues….pity!! .

    Congratulations again and take care.


    careba on Jun 20th, 2007 at 4:21pm

  10. Brilliant musicianship all around, Wynton writes very difficult, virtuostic ensemble figures with complex counter rhythms, the band (both of them) performed phenomonally.
    The spiritual vibe between the musicians was at its peak. You could sense the love and mutual respect they had for each other…Wynton sounded stronger than I’ve heard him in over a year…and the audience was dancing in the aisles for the finale!
    Average to low crowd turnout, possibly due to high ticket prices for benefit concert or just the distraction of summer… 14-year old daughter was impressed with Wynton’s dancing! HA. In all a great evening that reinforces his standing as America’s preeminent composer.

    Juanmustard on Jun 20th, 2007 at 1:03pm

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