Wynton Marsalis raises the temperature with jazz on a hot summer’s night

THE howling horns and visceral rhythms of Harlem’s Cotton Club got the audience’s blood pumping when one of the greatest figures in contemporary jazz, Wynton Marsalis, led his Lincoln Center band in series of concerts for Sydney Symphony Orchestra this week.

On Wednesday, as a special one off, the 15-man band played two sets — one of Duke Ellington and the other music by George Gershwin.

Then on Thursday and Friday they joined the SSO for the Australian premiere of Marsalis’s Swing Symphony, a six-movement suite portraying different eras of jazz from its New Orleans beginnings through to the groundbreaking work of Charlie Mingus and John Coltrane.

Marsalis first established himself as a world-beating trumpeter at 17 when he played with the legendary Art Blakey and the Messengers, going on to lead his own bands and making more than 60 recordings and picking up nine Grammies. He made history by taking out two in the same year — one for jazz and the other for his classical recording of the Haydn trumpet concertos.

But this tour with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) showed us only flashes of individual Marsalis magic, rather it was a collaborative effort with a remarkable group of virtuoso jazzmen.

In the front row sat a trio of multi-instrumentalists, switching frequently between saxophones, clarinets and flutes to give Ellington’s lush compositions a range of tonal colours. Next to them, providing deep down grunt, were two more sax players, switching from alto to tenor to baritone.

Behind them a stunning trio of trombonists, and at the back Marsalis and three more superb trumpeters in Ryan Kisor, Kenny Rampton and Marcus Printup.

Keeping the groove going and underpinning all of this a magnificent rhythm section with talented composer Carlos Henriquez on bass and pianist Dan Nimmer capturing all the elegance and eloquence of Ellington’s keyboard style…


Highlights of the first half, when every number was special, included a beautifully realised version of the Ellington classic Mood Indigo with the warm and subtle blend of trombone, clarinet and trumpet, and Victor Goines channelling Sidney Bechet on soprano sax for a drop dead version of Gershwin’s Summertime from Porgy and Bess.

Two jazz-tinged works by Leonard Bernstein, conducted with infectious energy by David Robertson, set the scene for the other concert. SSO clarinetist Francesco Celata took the solo for Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, with the orchestra filled out by a saxophone quartet and the JLCO’s Printup on trumpet and Al Jackson on drums.

The other work, and a lively opener, was music for the ballet Fancy Free, Bernstein’s first collaboration with dancer and choreographer Jerome Robbins, a partnership which later produced the masterpiece West Side Story.

The icing on the cake was an encore, after seven curtain calls, in which Marsalis finally let fly with an amazing, sustained and buoyant solo

Marsalis’s Swing Symphony, which got better after a couple of rather bland opening movements, brought the enthusiastic young audience for the Meet the Music Thursday concert to their feet, especially the soulful alto sax solo by Sherman Irby in the section which paid tribute to Benny Carter.

The icing on the cake was an encore, after seven curtain calls, in which Marsalis finally let fly with an amazing, sustained and buoyant solo.

The concert with the SSO is repeated tonight at 8pm at Sydney Opera House Concert Hall.

by Steve Moffatt
Source: The Daily Telegraph

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