Trumpeter hits high notes, with a little help from friend

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis finally warmed to local audiences last night with a little help from one of Edmonton’s own. Offering two sets – jazz standards in the first half and some originals in the second – his sextet took a while to let loose and enjoy themselves, but when they did the appreciative crowd responded immediately.
The response also had more than a bit to do with the surprise appearance of veteran bluesman Big Miller.

Starting things out with the sparest accompaniment shortly after 8 O’clock, Marsalis set a sumptuous pastoral tone with Just Friends, the first of eight short standards that played up to the trumpeter’s preoccupation with the jazz tradition. And along with a sextet that marked the classic cut of the past with their suits and ties looking small and severe in the red glow of the large stage, it seemed almost as if they could have stepped out of the 50’s.

For Marsalis, sticking to the tradition seems to mean traditional 78 rpm readings of each piece as well. Seldom did any of the group extend themselves beyond a few moments or phrases. While there is something to be said for sharing solo space it shouldn’t be at the expense of developing improvisation.

The more exciting material included Ellington’s Caravan, a fine rolling variation on the classic that began with some enticing drumming interspersed with a cow bell. The three front-line players Todd Williams on tenor, Wesley Anderson on alto and Marsalis himself let their triple harmony meld together in and out of synch until Marsalis stuck his hand inside the bell of his horn to grow I out a solo. He was at once relaxed and eager to find out where the muse might take him in a short but scintillating statement. Charlie Parker’s Chasin’ The Bird also offered some wonderful ensemble interplay.

As the lofty sounds played oil against each other it brought to mind Marsalis New Orleans roots tempered in a beautiful baroque feel that could have gone on all evening. Sadly, the tune cut the first set off after only several minutes. Well-crafted original writing from Marsalis and his colleagues gave a longer, heavier stretched out shape to the second half.

A tribute to those who sought the end of the slave trade involved a peculiar and curious turn for pianist Marcus Roberts who really seemed to open up and take his time.
Marsalis’ own mournful refrain played off a deeper drum sound and then struck a more deliberate tone of defiance. It was at this point that vocalist Big Miller joined the group for a couple of tracks that brought home the blues in style. As the horn players echoed his raunchy phrases, audience responded when sextet cut loose that the crowd was having fun. And so was the band. Marsalis took a plunger solo drenched in good humor and then offered Miller a hand just as this ear had to depart for deadlines. After almost two hours Marsalis’ sextet had the ring of sincerity.t Edmonton Journal

By Roger Levesque
Source: Edmonton Journal

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