Marsalis, Lincoln Center orchestra make season bright at Marcus Center

You know it’s a good gig when you can’t tell if the band or the audience is having more fun.

Wynton Marsalis, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant and an Uihlein Hall audience shared a great time Monday with the band’s “Big Band Holidays” at the Marcus Center.

The music, most of which was arranged by members of the band, was miles and miles from the trite pop arrangements cluttering the air this time of year. These were meaty, interesting takes on great tunes, each leaving plenty of room for band members to take solos.

And what solos those were. From smooth, elegant lines to syncopated, harmonically complex riffs, the players put their creative signatures on each tune.

Those tunes ranged from an excerpt of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” to the spiritual “Mary Had a Baby,” and from Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” to “Greensleeves” (“What Child Is This?”) and a playful “‘Zat You, Santa Claus?”

Salvant joined the band on several numbers, bringing an enormous palette of colors and characters to the tunes as well as some of the hottest, cleanest scat singing I’ve ever heard in a live performance.

She is a vocal chameleon, tossing off a high, innocent ingénue sound with perfect ease, morphing on her way down a scale into a throaty, dark belt. Her vocal acrobatics never get in the way of the tunes. Instead, she uses them to illuminate the music and lyrics.

Marsalis, who spent the evening seated in the trumpet section, introduced each number on the program. Those introductions were a great part of the evening’s fun.

He spoke with a heartfelt mix of respect, affection, knowledge and almost reverence for the tunes and their composers, giving each tune a place in the legacy of music.

Marsalis introduced Milwaukee native Dan Nimmer on piano, and his parents (in the audience), explaining that every musician wants to sound good in his or her hometown.

Nimmer did his parents proud, going well beyond good to play with creativity, sensitivity and refinement.

One of the great delights of the concert was watching the musicians listen to each other, appreciating and cheering each other’s solos and Salvant’s vocals.

As the band left the stage to a standing ovation, Nimmer, bassist Carlos Henriquez and drummer Ali Jackson continued jamming. Marsalis reappeared and joined in, much to the audience’s delight.

Source: Journal Sentinel

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