Wynton Marsalis (trumpet)
Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
London Adventist Chorale
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: 2 October, 2005
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Kurt Masur, who commissioned Wynton Marsalis to write the piece while at the New York Philharmonic for the Millennium, brought “All Rise” to the Royal Albert Hall, following its European premiere in Birmingham and then a performance in Cardiff on the preceding two nights. After an extended concert (far exceeding the recording’s 100 minutes), which included two encores, the audience acquiesced to Marsalis’s pleading and all, quite simply, rose to greet the performers and, particularly, the composer.
We perhaps forget Masur’s commitment to contemporary music; in both Leipzig and New York he was the commissioner or premiere-conductor of many big works, and it was great that he was the impetus for bringing “All Rise” over the pond. Perhaps not surprisingly, since its 29 December 1999 first performance, it has been widely performed in the USA and recorded, which – only because of Herculean efforts by all parties concerned, including the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Marsalis and Esa-Pekka Salonen – was not one of the casualties in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I thought that some mention might have been made about ‘Hurricane Katrina’ and the obliteration of New Orleans, given the city’s importance in the development of jazz, and, indeed, it being Marsalis’s home town. But then the nature of the event would have changed, and Marsalis’s hope for the current century to be one of integration would be forced into too-specific a slot; so all credit for allowing his inspiration and hopes free reign to move each member of the audience in their own way.
Like a cross between Messiaen’s Turangalîla and Ellington’s Sacred Concerts, “All Rise” melds traditional jazz, courtesy of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra’s 15 players, with a large orchestra completely surrounding the jazz combo in an amazing range of music, from the African rhythms that open the work via snatches of Copland, Bartók and Tippett in an unaccompanied spiritual, to what somebody behind me thought sounded like Shostakovich, but to me was more oriental in its sinewy line.
None of these ‘influences’ sounded out of place or contrived, given Marsalis’s sheer joie de vivre. Even the overtly evangelical nature of some of the choral parts (the London Adventist Chorale warming to the task after a rather indistinct start) didn’t turn me off as I might have expected. The analogy to Messiaen came to mind because of the multi-movement nature of the piece, defined by Marsalis as “structured in the form of the Blues, 12 movements to the 12 bars” and arranged in three sections, each of four movements.
So skilfully are the jazz solos woven into the texture that you begin to wonder whether there is rather too little for them to do, but the final movement, ‘I Am (Don’t you run from me)’, drops the orchestra for just the singers and the jazz orchestra to end in joyous exhortation. It was this final section, introduced with a grumbling contrabassoon upbeat (Marsalis likes the double bassoon – all credit to him), that was repeated as the first encore, leaving Masur, using minimal gestures, to bring in the chorus.
I particularly liked the opening of the second half – the movement entitled ‘El ‘Gran’ Baile de la Riena’ –, which introduced overt Latin rhythms to the infectious mix, and formed the first dance of the third and final section. It was also great watching the jazz orchestra display their various percussive skills, including the trumpet section, led by Marsalis himself, slamming their bowler hat-shaped mutes on the ground to whomping effect. The jazz orchestra’s drummer, Ali Jackson – resplendent in his white shirt, in amidst the soberly dressed rest of the band and orchestra – played a mean washboard as well; from where I was sitting it became stereo with its echo across the hall.
The dynamic between conductor and composer/trumpeter was fascinating. Marsalis took his place with the band, but at the beginning and end of both halves Masur, with the simplest motion of his hand, got Marsalis to the front for general acclamation. Only at the end, when Masur went to stand at the back of the first violins, did Marsalis take centre-stage for a haunting improvisation, accompanied by pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Carlos Henriquez and drummer Ali Jackson, which also included a short solo for saxophonist Sherman Irby.
The London Philharmonic seemed to be having a whale of a time; Marsalis happily chatting to the viola and cello sections on his way to the front. Quondam LSO, Hallé and BBCSO leader Michael Davis was guest first violin, while Eduardo Vassallo from the CBSO guest-led the cellos: I wondered if they had made strenuous efforts to get themselves involved in what is probably one of the most memorable musical events of 2005.
One last chance to see the whole caboodle, as All Rise comes to Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall tonight, the 5th.