Wynton Marsalis returns

Wynton Marsalis was only 17 when he first set foot on Tanglewood’s grounds as a Fellow at the center.
“It was the first time I had ever left New Orleans,” said the young classical and Jazz trumpeter, who performed at Tanglewood Saturday night. Since his fellowship, Marsalis has earned seven Grammy Awards, simultaneously in the categories of jazz and classical music, and five consecutive annual awards for Jazz Musician of the Year and Best Trumpet in down beat magazine. And he still does not appear a day older than 17.

An unseasonably cold and damp evening brought Marsalis a much smaller crowd than he deserved, and many of those who did attend left at various points during the second half of the two-hour performance, leaving only the die-hard Marsalis devotees still seated for the encore. But the soft-spoken Marsalis, seemingly uninsulted by the crowd’s impolite departures, and unaffected by the weather himself, presented an admirable performance nonetheless.

Works by Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Ray Noble complemented Marsalis’ original compositions, which have only recently begun appearing on the trumpeter’s many albums. “South of the Border,” an upbeat, swingy work, with its occasional oddly distorted high wails from Marsalis and energetic drum work by Jeff “Tain” Watts, was one such Marsalis composition. It was notable also for its sweet,’ trilling ending, a welcome relief from the often disappointing, withering finishes tagged onto many of the other numbers performed throughout the evening.

Pianist Marcus Roberts, whose talent also greatly belies his youth, complemented the quartet’s work as a whole, with some innovative, offbeat piano solos, sometimes lagging just a fraction of a beat behind, the better to unexpectedly attack an ensuing phrase. The string (and, at one point, bowed) bass work of Robert Leslie Hurst III, was, unfortunately, often drowned by the drums during these piano breaks, points at which the underlying beat of the bass would have been a welcome embellishment. Even more frustrating was the fact that, although so often one could see Hurst plucking away with great intent and speed, even with straining ears, it was almost impossible to hear his contributions.

The rich texture and clarity Marsalis is capable of producing with his horn were much more evident in slower, more romantic numbers, during which he could, in the course of a single phrase, soar from an almost whispered soprano whistle all the way down to a trombone-sounding bass growl. Watts’ flut-tery, brushing drum work during Kern’s “Yesterdays,” in particular, was an enchanting accompaniment to Marsalis’ gentle meanderings.

Marsalis seemed to lose some of his control over the music, however, during some of the more intricate, extremely fast-paced runs laced through almost all of his numbers. Although, technically, the speed with which these runs were executed displayed an astonishing dexterity and accuracy in fingering, it was at the sacrifice of the quality of sound produced, an unnecessary, though minor, flaw in an otherwise innovative and inspired performance.

By Orla Swift
Source: The Berkshire Eagle

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