Lincoln Jazz: Ellington en Masse

As the artistic airector of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis had the privilege of introducing the ensemble at Wolf Trap Sunday night. As fourth trumpet in the band, he was often heard from as well, adding plunger-tones to “Black and Tan Fantasy” and some of the more colorful orchestrations before uncorking a vivid, open-toned reading of “Portrait of Louis Armstrong.”

However, Marsalis was hardly alone in bringing his personality to bear on the works of Ellington and his longtime collaborator, Billy Strayhorn. Under the direction of David Berger, the music was dotted with individual contributions that were never less than enjoyable and sometimes unmistakably inspired: Pianist Sir Roland Hanna’s percussive and implacable attack instantly made “Rockin’ in Rhythm” worthy of its name; Bill Easley’s supple clarinet threw the sumptuous reed section into bold relief on the tone poem “Lady of the Lavender Mist”; trombonists Art Baron and Wycliffe Gordon lent their swaggering, idiomatic sound to several pieces; singer Milt Grayson’s unusually resonant baritone voice graced the concert with “Lucky So and So” and other ballads; trumpeter Lew Soloff added bravura shouts to “Braggin’ in Brass” and other tunes; alto saxophonist Norris Turney soulfully evoked Johnny Hodges on “Jeep’s Blues”; and tenor saxophonist Todd Williams recalled both Paul Gonsalves’ stamina and inventiveness with “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” a performance that managed to be both exhausting and exhilarating.

As impressive as they were, though, the parts weren’t nearly as interesting as the whole — that distinctive confluence of earthiness and elegance that defines Ellingtonia.

Apart from a few technical problems and tentative spots, the orchestra preserved and celebrated that blend with a masterly touch.

By Mike Joyce
Source: The Washington Post

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