Wynton Marsalis’s Spaces, Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York — ‘Lil Buck moved on a pillow of air’

With Spaces, Wynton Marsalis has created a jazz Carnival of the Animals. The trumpeter-composer conjures a snake from the slide of trombone, the shimmer of cymbal and the snare drum’s dry tick. Four trumpets, three trombones and five saxes render the clucking cacophony of barnyard chickens as well as their jerky gait. Frogs croak in and out of phase, like Steve Reich.

For this expanded, 90-minute edition of the 2009 suite in 10 parts, Marsalis invited two dance virtuosi to share the stage with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. An inspired idea: in its mutability, dance has long evoked animals. Too often, though, the music, even more than the 15-person band, pushed the movers to the margins. After a startling opening salvo, the orchestra would settle into a groove that left the dancers scant drama or character to flesh out.

Jared Grimes suffered the added disadvantage of having to compete with the mass of brass. As his recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert demonstrated, this After Midnight standout can finesse great variation in volume, timbre and speed with surprising delicacy. But here he was limited to hitting hard, until eventually conductor Damien Sneed got the orchestra to pause for him. Then Grimes joined sight to sound, at one point matching powerfully rolling shoulders to a silky stream of taps for a lion’s sinuous stride.

Sneaker-clad Lil Buck needed no accommodation. Discovered on YouTube five years ago by Spaces’ choreographic consultant Damian Woetzel, who quickly paired him with Yo-Yo Ma (Baryshnikov and New York City Ballet soon followed), the Memphis native does jookin’: hip-hop’s answer to ballet’s fine-grained toe manoeuvres. But now he has transcended his speciality. Whether skimming the stage in a sideways, warp-speed moonwalk or disconnecting neck bone from shoulder bone like a marionette or, by contrast, soldering them together to resemble a Keith Haring sidewalk silhouette, he moved on a pillow of air.

The hype around Lil Buck had me sceptical. No more.

by Apollinaire Scherr
Source: Financial Times

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  1. Wynton,

    A friend missed Spaces and wanted to know how she could hear it again? Will you make a CD or put it on UTube. It was so fantastic…just loved it….a gem! Thanks so much!! You are our national treasure

    Lynn Littau on Apr 7th, 2016 at 6:32am