Marsalis tries out new works in Boston

CAMBRIDGE – Consider the late addition of Wynton Marsalis to the Regattabar schedule like the local stop of a Broadway bound show. The trumpeter will officially premier an extended composition, “In This House, On This Morning” at New York’s Lincoln Center next Wednesday, and is using the five-night Cambridge stay in part to test-run the commission into final shape.

The current Marsalis septet, together for more than three years, is more than prepared to execute detailed scores. Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and saxophonists Wessel Anderson and Todd Williams reflect both the technical and emotional temperment of their leader, and the composed, effortlessly precise articulation of their four-horns in ensemble create an urbane and confidently demure personality.

Marsalis has responded to the possibilities of his band by concentrating less on direct New Orleans homage and more on the city’s greatest non-native interpreter, Duke Ellington. He reflects Ellington’s techniques in the orchestral details – roughing more elegant voicings with muted brass, bathing his melodies in honeyed saxophone vibrato – and in the blue echoes at the core of his written variations.
Todd Williams’ loose, swampy clarinet is a critical ingredient, and the suave Williams/Anderson reed section applies varied colors as it blends sopranino, soprano, alto and tenor saxophones.

The group’s sophisticated approach has transformed pieces from earlier days like “Black Codes (from the Underground).” Hearing the older tune pointed out how Marsalis music has evoked from the rhythm section up. Bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley create a wider, more danceable bottom for the soloists; and pianist Eric Reed brings the right spring to what had been the band’s one unsettled chair after the departure of Marcus Roberts.

Anderson’s sopranino solo on “Black Codes” showed the band’s less polite side with a touch of overblowing and fevered repetitions. – each note, of course, perfectly struck. The trumpeter, in turn, was more patient than the Marsalis who first recorded this piece. The new “City Movement,” or at least three of its five parts, was the more segmented and programmatic of the new works. It was played, like the rest of the music, with all of the horns seated, and reflected a deceptively calm elan.

Where “City” moves too quickly and self-consciously to be as effective as the longer compositions on Marsalis’ new “Blue Interlude” album, “On This Day” showed better pace and a more confident spirit. At no point, though, did jazz’s most visible artist seem intent on doing less than earning our full attention.

By Bob Blumenthal
Source: Boston Globe

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