The Band Strikes Up to Play a Few of Its Favorite Things
Some concerts by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra adhere to thematic prescriptions: the legacy of a single composer, for instance, or the sound of a specific place and time. “The Songs We Love,” which the band performed in more than a dozen cities leading up to a three-night stand at the Rose Theater, advanced a somewhat less focused agenda.
It was basically a grab bag of standards in mostly classic arrangements selected by Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s artistic director. One of the first numbers on Friday night — a slow blues involving Mr. Marsalis, his trumpet and a plunger mute — technically wasn’t even a song. But looseness can be a smart premise for a band as disciplined as this one. At its best the program suggested an alternate title: “The Songs We Love to Play.”
One such moment came at the end of the first half: an Oliver Nelson arrangement of the spiritual “Down by the Riverside” with a crablike rhythmic movement and minor-key harmonization. The brass section announced the song’s title phrase as a fanfare, over the rhythm section’s chugging momentum. And the first soloist, a British trombonist named Elliot Mason, delivered what amounted to a depth charge. (Mr. Mason is a new member of the band and has hit the ground running.)
Two other highlights arrived side by side, and as Mr. Marsalis pointed out, each showcased the band’s five saxophonists as a single voice. On Benny Carter’s celebrated swing-era arrangement of “All of Me,” they sounded fleet and gracious together, and their dynamic fluctuations seemed to ride a single breeze. The alto saxophonist Sherman Irby adopted a similar airy quality in his solo, along with a singing tone.
Then came a version of “My Favorite Things” scored by Ted Nash, a saxophonist in the band. Originally performed in the fall as part of a concert celebrating John Coltrane, it features a melodic line for five soprano saxophones, based on Coltrane’s landmark interpretation. Each of the five had a solo turn, but the most striking statement was made by the pianist Dan Nimmer, who has grown noticeably more comfortable with modal playing. His efforts, and the intense exertions of the drummer Ali Jackson, made the arrangement feel sharper than it did the first time around.
Of course it was still a retread, and not the only one. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia” sounded shopworn, even with good solos by the trumpeter Marcus Printup and the bassist Carlos Henriquez. So did the Wild Bill Davis arrangement of “April in Paris” made famous by the Count Basie Orchestra, which closed the show.
Both were crowd-pleasers, though, and that counted for a lot in a concert that also included less-heralded charts by Bill Russo, Ernie Wilkins and Don Redman. It all made sense in light of what Jazz at Lincoln Center is aiming for: programming that enlightens as it entertains and grabs new listeners in the process. “The Songs We Love” gets at only part of it. Mr. Marsalis wants you to love them too.
by Nate Chinen
Source: The New York Times