Marsalis fans get sneak preview of new work
PRINCETON – A large audience of Wynton Marsalis fans filled the McCarter Theatre in Princeton on Tuesday night, not knowing what kind of program to expect. What they heard was the world premiere of a major, evening-long piece entitled “In this House, On This Morning,” a powerful work which is at the same time both pioneering and reflective of the history of jazz.
The work commissioned by Lincoln Center, was actually scheduled for its official world premiere last night, but the Princeton audience was lucky enough to have the first earing.
A certain amount of secrecy had surrounded the unofficial debut. While Marsalis had promised to try out some or all of the work, his managers and publicists had said it was unlikely. “Previewing” premieres can be politically delicate because those who fund such commissions do not generally want to share the honors.
On the other hand, a trial run is necessary, to give performers and composers a chance to iron out the wrinkles. In any case, Tuesday’s audience was delighted to hear whatever Marsalis and his group played, and the McCarter audience was witness to the creation of a monumental new work.
For some time now, Marsalis has experimented with longer jazz, forms, during which he can throughly explore jazz styles and history. Altough there were many ‘quotes’ from earlier styles, including those of the jazz greats, blues, and a brief Dixieland quartet which drew a big round of applause, Marsalis approached jazz style from a long perspective rather than with an eclecticism.
With his current philosophy of composition, he is viewing and representing real life people and events through the music. “In this House, On This Morning,” is a spiritual work, whose broad sections and sub-divisions express the emotional life of a church service, with hymns, scripture readings, a sermon, even a gospel song with guest singers, and many other elements of a (non denominational) church service.
The effect is almost one of a sacred cantata for jazz septet. The work grew in intensity, and the impact of two hours relating to a principal idea was quite moving.
The group included Marsalis on trumpet, Wessell Anderson, alto saxophone; Todd Williams, tenor and soprano saxophones and clarinet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; Reginald Veal, bass; Herlin Riley, drums and Eric Reed, piano.
The new work is very demanding, and the septet’s ability to achieve a blended group sound, without sacrifice individuality, was remarkable. Throughout the evening, there were wonderful dialogues, musical conversations featuring two or more of the instrumentalists, and improvisational solos and duos.
The work moved from one section to another magically, and the audience seemed to be drawn along, becoming more and more involved as the work progressed. At times, as if by some mysterious radar, the rhythm demanded that the audience clap along, and the entranced group knew exactly when to comply.
Like a sermon
The three-part “Sermon” opened the second half of the evening. Marsalis, who spoke to the audience between sections of the work, said that a “well-known preacher” had once told him that the secret to delivering a good sermon was to “start slow and low, get higher and catch on fire.”
That clearly applied to his musical representation. Because of the length of the work, Marsalis was able to design long sections of slow, melodic material, and not feel compelled to push constantly forward. ‘Expansive’ would be the term that perhaps best describes the feeling of this work.
Marsalis spoke in a low, soft voice, eliciting laughter with some of his explanations of the sections of his work. Part II began with a hymn. ‘It’s just a hymn. It’s followed by a scripture reading. We don’t know which scripture it’s reading from.’
Gospel singer Marian Williams assisted with a “Prayer, about an offering.” As Marsalis had intended, the evening was filled with many moods, and many styles. But he and his group managed to tie all the ideas together into one broad, extended idea.
By Rena Fruchter
Source: The Central New Jersey Home News