Pop Classics for Horn

Jazz musicians rarely get credit for keeping Tin Pan Alley standards current through the rock era. Yet they continue to honor that repertory, both by reclaiming pop melodies with eloquent phrasing and by evading them to reveal ingenious harmonic structures. ‘‘Standards on Horn,’‘ part of the ‘‘Classical Jazz’‘ series with Wynton Marsalis as artistic adviser, drew almost equally on pop standards (’‘Body and Soul,’‘ ‘‘Embraceable You’‘) and be-bop tunes (’‘Confirmation,’‘ ‘‘Blue Bossa’‘). With well-chosen soloists and a sophisticated rhythm section (Buster Williams on bass, Ben Riley on drums and Tommy Flanagan or Hank Jones on piano), the pieces sang out in thoroughly individual voices.

J. J. Johnson, playing trombone, and Clifford Jordan, playing tenor saxophone, led a quintet in the program’s most daring music. Mr. Johnson, who described himself as an ‘‘aging be-bop trombonist,’‘ has a suave tone, sure intonation and a quick, impulsive mind that keeps his solos utterly modern.

Mr. Jordan was just as smooth and unpredictable. He might take a leisurely glide over the beat or dig in; his solos would suddenly jump down for fat, froggy notes or spring into an unlikely upper register. For these hornmen (and their rhythm section, with Mr. Flanagan), the be-bop vocabulary has never ossified.

In the second half, Mr. Marsalis picked up his trumpet to join two of his elders, Harry (Sweets) Edison and Doc Cheatham, in a cross-generational colloquy. After sharing theme statements, usually in three-part counterpoint, the trumpeters gently prodded one another. Mr. Cheatham leaned toward broad, straightforward, newly minted melodies in a tone with an alley-cat swagger; Mr. Edison brought to most of his variations his gleaming sound and lightly jabbing sense of pacing, while his muted solo on ‘‘Lover Man’‘ was a model of sensuous mystery. Mr. Marsalis, whose restrained tone made him sound like a New Orleans clarinetist when the trumpeters played together, delivered more convoluted, hard-bop-derived improvisations. In sighing, long-lined solos, he varied phrase length, tone and strategy, with elegant but self-conscious results.

George Coleman, on tenor saxophone, opened the program with ‘‘Body and Soul’‘ and ‘‘Cherokee,’‘ but by the time he hit his stride with fluent arpeggios to finish off ‘‘Cherokee,’‘ his segment was over.

by Jon Pareles
Source: The New York Times

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