Modern New Orleans

At the Public Theater’s New Orleans-New York jazz concerts on Friday and Saturday, the wind players strolled onto the stage to begin solos, offstage to end them. It was a subtle but direct reminder of the connection between this sextet and the marches and street parades that lend so much New Orleans music its syncopated strut – a tradition that came through the modern harmonies of the sextet’s compositions.

Half of the group was enjoying a reunion. In the mid-1950’s, the pianist Ellis Marsalis, the drummer Ed Blackwell and the clarinetist Alvin Batiste worked together in the American Jazz Quintet. Mr. Marsalis’s sons, the trumpeter Wynton and the saxophonist Branford, together with the New York bassist Mark Helias completed the sextet.

Wynton Marsalis’s darting, articulate trumpet playing has been deservedly praised at his local appearances; he and his family share a disposition for modestly tapering off solos. Mr. Blackwell picked up each player’s rhythmic cues in seconds and rooted them in a jaunty, flexible parade-ground beat.

But the sextet’s gift to New York was Mr. Batiste, a remarkable clarinetist. Mr. Batiste played all over his range, leapfrogging from register to register so smoothly that his low notes deepened his sweet, clear upper tones. He would gracefully double and triple the sextet’s speedy tempos, then ease into lucid, keening melodic phrases. He made his instrument sound like everything but the tootling clarinet of traditional jazz.

by Jon Pareles
Source: The New York Times

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