Wholly Wonderful (If Not Whole) Jazz

JAZZ AT Lincoln Center, the most ambitious American attempt yet to give jazz an institutional base comparable to a major opera company or symphony orchestra, has been the center of controversy ever since it was launched in 1991. Many of the musicians and commissioned composers are allied with artistic director Wynton Marsalis or artistic consultant Stanley Crouch, and very little of the programming falls outside their conservative definition of the “true” jazz tradition.

Most of the controversy, though, seems to center on what the program doesn’t do rather than on what it does do. The music that it does present is top-notch, if the evidence of “Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents: The Fire of the Fundamentals” is to be trusted. This album presents 10 live recordings from the program’s first two seasons and includes a large number of imposing talents, if little sense of jazz developments since 1965.

The full Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra brings persuasive swing and rich tonal colors to Charlie Parker’s “Hootie Blues” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Multi-Colored Blue.” Expanded and altered versions of the Wynton Marsalis Quintet turn in aggressive, 11-minute reworkings of Miles Davis’s “Flamenco Sketches” and John Coltrane’s “Dahomey Dance,” while Marcus Roberts, the pianist for the latter two pieces, contributes virtuoso solo performances of Thelonious Monk and Jelly Roll Morton tunes. Veterans Betty Carter, Kenny Barron and Jimmy Heath are their usual fine selves.

A version of Morton’s “Jungle Blues,” featuring a mostly New Orleans band, might have worked if the brass had been properly recorded.

VARIOUS ARTISTS — “Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents: The Fire of the Fundamentals” (Columbia). The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, featuring Marcus Roberts, appears Sunday at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

By Geoffrey Himes
Source: The Washington Post

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