Sizzling backup a bonus gift on jazzman’s birthday
The coolest shindig in town Wednesday night had to be Wynton Marsalis’s 46th birthday concert. About 1,050 Victorians celebrated with the most famous jazz trumpeter alive, joining his quintet to sing Happy Birthday to the boss.
Marsalis, natty in a tan three-piece suit, got into the fun himself on this unplanned encore with a solo spanning buttery bop flurries and echoes of Dixieland. Then, after offering a few notes to the audience sitting stage right, the trumpeter — seeming both pleased and faintly embarrassed — strolled off.
This version of the Wynton Marsalis Quintet is one tight, funky and economical unit. If his 2005 concert with the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra was a grand Rolls Royce, these guys are a peppy Maserati.
The concert drew heavily from Marsalis’s 2004 Blue Note album, The Magic Hour. The evening commenced with Free to Be, an upbeat, jubilant opener notable for the choppy, sharp groove laid down by bassist Carlos Henriquez and the excellent drummer Ali Jackson. Jackson’s exuberance and panache are a force of nature — during Walter Blanding’s sax solo, for instance, the drummer couldn’t resist adding stops and shots that popped like firecrackers.
Marsalis was dissatisfied with his sound on another self-penned composition, Sophie Rose-Rosalee, which he explained is about a little girl teased at school for wearing glasses. He used a mute for the piece, creating a reedy tone that, depending on one’s taste, was delicate or simply too thin.
“For some reason, that mute didn’t sound right, so I tried messin’ with it,” he said afterwards. Yet overall, Sophie Rose-Rosalee glowed with a gentle, autumnal beauty. Most notable was Dan Nimmer’s terrific piano solo — tremendously economical with minimal left-hand comping.
The most fully realized offering was Big Fat Hen, grafting a circular samba groove to a second-line beat. It began with Marsalis making playful clucking, sucking noises on his instrument. On this piece, Nimmer came into his own, displaying a fabulous sense of time and attacking the music with brio. Backed at one point by drums only, Marsalis played a truly swinging solo with a beautiful tone. The trumpeter ended this with a cluster of dramatically bent blue notes and a cheeky interplay with the drummer (the pair exchanged unison triplets, with Jackson — as though teasing the bandleader — mischievously dropping a beat on the last one).
The Magic Hour is Marsalis’s four-movement piece meant to reflect the shifting moods of an evening in which rambunctious children are sent to bed by their parents, who then enjoy their own “magic hour.” It’s a wide-ranging work, embracing swing, Afro-Hispanic rhythms, blues and balladry. Nothing that night was sexier than Marsalis’s slow, bluesy solo delivered standing behind the band. The obvious crowd-pleaser, however, was Jackson’s flashy high-hat showcase, a study in razor-like precision.
The only real misstep was a piece introduced as Supercapitalism. Sung by young vocalist Jennifer Sanon, who appeared only for the second half, it’s an attack on crass materialism and good old North American money-grubbing. The lyrics — about getting enough “green” with the repeated refrain: “It’s never enough” — are disappointingly literal. And Sanon seemed plain uncomfortable navigating the fast, scat-like sections. The composition’s nervous skittering from one musical style and rhythm to the next is likely intended to be boldly post-modern, yet it came off more as a musician’s exercise than anything else.
Much better suited to Sanon’s light, slightly smokey voice was Comes Love (Nothing Can Be Done). The singer, influenced by the early work of Ella Fitzgerald, sang prettily, but most remarkable of all was Marsalis’s ballsy, raspy solo. Saxophonist Blanding stepped up to the plate with an improvisation that ended in such a polished and lyrical way, his boss grinned and gestured to indicate his pure delight.
Marsalis and his band later joined Victoria bassist Sean Drabitt and other local players for a jam session at Hemann’s Jazz Club.
Victoria Jazz Society producer Darryl Mar said the trumpeter initially wanted to be taken to his hotel room as he was jet-lagged from a just-completed tour to Moscow. However, when he heard his band was making the session (which lasted past 1 a.m.) Marsalis asked to be picked up from his hotel and driven to Hermann’s.
“He said, ‘Man, it’s my duty. I taught these cats [in my band] to hang out and play,’ “ Mar said.
Source: Times Colonist