Lincoln Center’s Man With the Trumpet, With Orchestra

Just before the lights dimmed in the Rose Theater on Thursday night, a voice announced that while the use of cellphones was prohibited, hand-clapping, foot-stomping and cries of “Aw, yeah!” were all welcome forms of audience participation. It was a hokier introduction than one might have expected from a concert called “Wynton With Strings.” But in a way, it suited both subject and setting.

Wynton Marsalis has built his legend on the premise of an elevated yet approachable music – America’s Classical Music, let’s say, but also an incorrigibly down-home gumbo. His primary instrument, aside from the trumpet, has been the apparatus of Jazz at Lincoln Center, which employs him as artistic director in much the same way that Apple employs Steve Jobs as chief executive. “Wynton With Strings” arrived several days after the organization’s fall gala, a black-tie affair that celebrated Mr. Marsalis’s 25-year solo career, and reportedly raised nearly $2 million.

There’s a certain middlebrow pleasure in the soloist-plus-strings equation, which most famously yielded recordings by Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown. Mr. Marsalis’s Columbia albums in this vein – “Hot House Flowers” in 1984 and “Standard Time, Vol. 5: The Midnight Blues” in 1998 – self-consciously strove for a more harmonious marriage of orchestration and improvisation. The arrangements from those albums, by Robert Freedman, were the chief substance of the concert, which featured Mr. Marsalis with his quintet and a string orchestra conducted by Robert Sadin.

At best, the music fulfilled its implicit promise of romance. “For All We Know” and “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year,” which both came in the stronger second half, provided Mr. Marsalis with vehicles for wistful Technicolor balladry, and he indulged without going overboard. “Stardust,” with its darkly tremulous arrangement, was even more powerful, and it elicited Mr. Marsalis’s most unassumingly virtuosic performance – though he was nearly eclipsed by the tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding Jr., who used Ben Webster’s crooning tone as a touchstone in the evening’s most gallant entreaty.

During other moments, an identity crisis appeared to take hold. “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” was a hodgepodge, alternating between a chromatic pedal point and a strangely unrelated slow swing section. “Django” began with appealing grandeur but gave way to a basic blues. The orchestra and the quintet never felt like a single entity, despite the fact that Mr. Sadin, when he wasn’t sculpturing air with his hands, often turned to the band to stomp his feet (he’d heard the announcement) or approvingly grimace and grunt.

Such jubilation felt warranted on a pair of small-group pieces: Mr. Marsalis’s recent ditties “Free to Be” and “Big Fat Hen.” But several blasts from his past – “Caravan,” “Just Friends” and “Cherokee” – featured the strings in dimensionless arrangements that merely overlaid the quintet. Mr. Marsalis sounded as crisp and confident as ever; the bright young talent in his band seemed hampered by all the fuss.

“Wynton With Strings” repeats tonight at 8 at Rose Theater, Frederick P. Rose Hall, 60th Street and Broadway, (212) 751-6500.

By Nate Chinen
Source: The New York Times

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  1. Well, why? Why does Wynton “need” to hear you?


    Jurzy Girl on Aug 28th, 2006 at 12:15pm

  2. I think Wynton needs to hear me, will someone put him in touch with me…469.471.7528

    Victor Cager on Aug 28th, 2006 at 2:42am

  3. You can find it in “Midnight Blues” and “HotHouse Flowers”; two of my favourite CDs, though them do not contain Wynton’s new and fine arrangements he made for last year concerts.
    Moving, really romantic music!!!.

    careba on Aug 15th, 2006 at 5:39pm

  4. Please, could you help me maybe
    I am french-
    I went to a concert of Wynton Marsalis (first time) at the Lincoln Center
    November 17-19, 2005.

    Where is it possible to buy the cd of this concert ???

    Thank you for your reply

    Kind Regards


    Joanna on Aug 15th, 2006 at 2:32pm

  5. Sorry Nate Chinen’s write up is the one that ended up in the Times. Ben Ratliff, I think, would have offered a deeper understanding of the music played last night.

    I agree about the “middlebrow pleasure in the soloist-plus-strings equation” and I am glad Chinen commented on that. He is DEAD wrong about the “bright young talent” seeming “hampered by all the fuss” of the strings and such. He noted Walter’s OUTSTANDING performance but needed to extend this praise to the others. I think Walter, Carlos, Dan and Ali were driven by the mood set by Wynton and played with incredible emotion, intensity and passion. Strings were not, as Chinen noted, as integrated into the whole sound as they might have been. (Here I wonder if Wynton fine tunes arrangements on an ongoing basis.) Strings did serve as a lovey complement to the music. Chinen failed to take note of the incredible oboe solo that was as suprising to hear as it was unsettling due to its evokation of mood and colorful imagery that cast a shadow of emotion over the ENTIRE audience. Chinen also failed to take note of the TWO standing ovations Wynton and band received last night. DO NOT like Chinen referring to the Majic Hour tracks as “ditties”…where is Ben Ratliff when I need him?!


    Jurzy Girl on Nov 22nd, 2005 at 9:48am

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