Wynton Marsalis, His Sextet And Some Unorthodox Blues

Last night Wynton Marsalis played the blues.

It wasn’t your down-home, garden variety. Marsalis, a jazzman who went to the Juilliard School of Music, brought to bear his massive classical chops on an eclectic set of material that ranged from Strayhorn to Schoenberg.

It was at times a little maddening. Marsalis would bend and splatter notes, softening his playing by dipping back from the microphone. His sextet occasionally put out sheets of sound that seemed to wash over several hundred fans at the Theater of Living Arts, where Marsalis is to end his two-day stand tonight.

But the closer Marsalis got to the blues, the better he sounded. Starting with the opening number, “Jig’s Jig,” and Billy Strayhorn’s “The Intimacy of the Blues,” the sextet laid down a quirky mix that featured surprising chord changes and uneven meters.

It was a modernist, updated blues that had people’s feet tapping and still held plenty of surprises for the purist.
Who else but Marsalis would play a blues number based on a 12-tone row, a technique borrowed from the classical composer Arnold Schoenberg and others who used the method in early 20th-century classical music?

The technique, which uses all of an octave’s 12 tones during a given period, is fiendishly difficult even for classical listeners. Marsalis wove a 12-tone row into a blues he called “Down Home with Homey,” and that was the show’s encore.
Last night, he started to explain the 12-tone row, and then stopped himself. “I don’t think it’s that important,” he said to wide laughter from the audience, which apparently agreed. They loved it.

Marsalis’ band is uniformly excellent. Pianist Marcus Roberts, an innovative stylist, put out a wonderful solo version of Thelonious Monk’s ‘‘Mysterioso.” The standouts include Wycliff Gordon on trombone, drummer Herlin Riley, bassist Reginald Veal, alto saxophonist Wes Anderson, and Todd Williams on soprano and tenor sax.

Marsalis and his band return tonight at 7:30 and 10:30. Tickets are $21.50.

by Karl Stark
Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

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