Wynton Marsalis: Enhancing the spirit

The jazz trumpeter stayed true to compositions by Thelonious Monk at the Zellerbach Theatre.

Near the end of his first set Wednesday at the Zellerbach Theatre, after his sextet had restated the melody of Thelonious Monk’s “Four in One” and was ready to send it home, Wynton Marsalis stepped up to the microphone looking like he had some unfinished business.

The acclaimed trumpeter, who had charmed the capacity crowd with self-deprecating wit and nuggets of jazz wisdom, sounded suddenly aggressive. Where he had previously tried to capture the capricious spirit of Monk, he was now in a technician’s overdrive, cleanly fingering a chorus of perfectly manicured double-time bebop, barely even stopping to breathe. That was followed by another, equally agile chorus. And another. Pretty soon, Monk was obliterated, replaced by a ripping romp through the Marsalis exercises.

It was the kind of awesome outburst that prompts some jazz fans to rhapsodize over Marsalis’ virtuosity, and others to wince at his grandstanding. And, in what might be seen as a sign of maturity, it was the only moment when Marsalis let his hands override his heart.

Throughout an opening set devoted to Monk, and a second set that mixed originals and standards, Marsalis worried less about notes than enhancing the spirit of the compositions. He caressed Monk’s ballad “Reflections” as though entrusted with something precious, and cavorted through the minefields of “I’ll Remember April” with a Cannonball Adderley bounce in his step.

Marsalis’ sidemen made important contributions. The trumpeter’s mannered, slightly awkward arrangements sometimes exaggerate Monk’s whimsical nature, turning casual quirks into objects of intense analysis. In their solos, the musicians reclaimed Monk’s offhand, hunt-and-peck grace: Delaware native Farid Barron mixed agitated chord voicings with galumphing, falling-down-the-stairs runs on Monk’s “Green Chimneys.” And though Victor Goines built a big idea from small motifs on “Four in One,” it was his sullen rendition of “The Nearness of You,” played on smoky clarinet, that captured hearts.

By Tom Moon
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

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