JLCO with Wynton Marsalis in London - Bernstein’s compassionate generosity

Leonard Bernstein’s optimistic modernism united showtune, symphony and jazz into a single, outward-looking musical vision. This concert, part of the Barbican’s celebration of Bernstein’s centennial year, captured the compassionate generosity of Bernstein’s work through the opulent reeds, luxurious brass and rhythmic spring of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO).

The evening opened with the fanfare of “Overture to Candide” recast for brass, followed by a burst of fast walking-bass swing to set tempo and mood. Slithery be-bop brass referenced the original Bernstein score, silky saxophone swells came in reply, then trumpeter Wynton Marsalis delivered a fistful of spikily articulate choruses to round out the JLCO aesthetic. Arranger Victor Goines followed on tenor sax, then a flurry of trombones, Latin jazz and solos for drums and bass.

The concert presented 11 richly reimagined Bernstein works ranging from “Lamentation” from Bernstein’s Symphony No.1 Jeremiah to the fragile solo piano piece “Touches”, presented as part of a three-song medley. Most, though, drew on Bernstein’s work for musical theatre, with arrangements by Richard DeRosa and JLCO trombonist Vincent Gardner that amplified Bernstein’s melodic flair and harmonic daring. And with Gardner setting the scene for each song, the evening progressed as a series of minutely observed tableaux.

The house lights remained on but dimmed, intensifying a somewhat distancing effect in a first half that included “Cool” from West Side Story and “Ain’t Got No Tears Left” from On the Town. The first grew tense with a rumbling undertow of mallets, the second was accurately introduced as “old testament Count Basie Orchestra”. The set ended with “Conversation Piece”, from Wonderful Town, a stop-start showstopper that captured the contours of an awkward conversation with a mix of dense collective improvisation and space.

The details were finely worked, but it wasn’t until the second half that the concert became more than the sum of its parts and really engaged. “Dance at the Gym”, from West Side Story, was a sultry Latin slow-burn opener featuring brash Marsalis trumpet, the brass was velvet smooth on “Lucky to be Me” and trumpeter Marcus Printup was a moving lead voice on “Lamentation”. “Gloria in Excelsis” from Bernstein’s Mass chopped and changed decisively, and the medley ended with a reading of “Somewhere” that moved steadily from doubt to hope.

The concert closed with a sparsely accompanied Marsalis delivering a bittersweet and captivating “Some Other Time”. He returned for the encore, a small-group reading of Gershwin’s “Oh, Lady Be Good!”, to work wonders with a bowler hat mute, though here it seemed somewhat superfluous.

by Mike Hobart
Source: Financial Times

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