Pairing of oud master with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra a once-in-a-lifetime concert experience

As a presenter, the Marcus Performing Arts Center can and should bring once-in-a-lifetime concerts to Milwaukee. Thursday’s night show by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra fit that rubric.

Trumpeter-composer Wynton Marsalis has brought his top-notch big band here before. But this time, he was joined by Iraqi oud master Naseer Shamma for an energetic West-meets-Middle-East concert of eight Shamma compositions.

Similar to a lute, the oud is an ancient 11-stringed instrument from the Middle East and North Africa. While it has a long history in traditional Arabic music, the oud also some jazz heritage. Ahmed Abdul-Malik released several albums in the late 1950s and early 1960s as an oud-playing leader. “Blue Maqams” (2017), from Tunisian master Anouar Brahem, was one of the best jazz albums of that decade.

While Shamma’s playing had some contemplative and exploratory moments Thursday, he frequently surged into speedy, hard-driving passages, a good fit for this fire engine of an orchestra. Marsalis’ musicians not only play hard, they’re adept with scores, too: Trombonist Chris Crenshaw, bassist Carlos Henriquez, saxophonists Sherman Irby and Ted Nash, and trumpeter Marcus Printup each arranged a Shamma composition for the big band.

“Carthage” showed off Shamma’s skills as a player. For a long stretch, it was just Shamma and sympathetic bassist Henriquez (my candidate for the evening’s unsung hero), galloping at a pace that would have worn out Hannibal and his elephants — before yielding to a spiky piano solo by Greenfield High School graduate Dan Nimmer, who has been the LCJO pianist since 2005.

Introducing Shamma’s “A World Without Fear,” Marsalis referenced the composer’s long history of peace activism and humanitarian work: Shamma has been both a UNESCO Artist for Peace and a goodwill ambassador for the International Red Crescent and Red Cross.

The concert closed with a piece that Shamma wrote in honor of Marsalis, which led to a rambunctious back and forth between oud player and trumpeter that was not so much call and response as it was call and friendly retort. Marsalis’ amazing variety of tricks and sounds had many of his orchestra members smiling.

by Jim Higgins
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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