Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis – Full Steam Ahead


Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis (trumpet)

Reviewed by: Bernie Mulcahy

Reviewed: 23 July, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis lead his big band through an engaging set – “Full Steam Ahead”, a programme inspired by train travel, a theme relevant to jazz history and the Afro-American experience. The US black community both built railroads and was employed to run them.

Duke Ellington compositions featured prominently. The set opened with a swinging arrangement of “Across the Track Blues”. The bandleader hit the ground running with a sensual solo showcasing exquisite tone and colour. Percussive trumpet blasts, chugging rhythms and singing saxophones recreated the sounds and atmosphere of the railroad on the quintessential Ellington locomotive tune “Daybreak Express” – the bell ringing, the whistle sounding and the horn blowing.

One of the most accomplished large jazz ensembles performing today, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra features prodigious individual talents that shone under sympathetic leadership. Eliot Mason’s muted wah-wah trombone solo on the Billy Strayhorn composition, “Take the A Train”, was of the highest order, while Sherman Irby’s breathy saxophone solo-spot on the Ellington gem “Track 360” ran the gamut of his horn’s subtlety and phrasing.

Having honoured Duke Ellington with technical brilliance and confidence, the band emerged for the second set looking relaxed, kicking off a selection of Wynton Marsalis’s own train-influenced numbers with the groove “Due South”, driven by the rhythm section and Dan Nimmer’s funky piano. A rendition of “Expressbrown Local”, from the 2002 album “All Rise”, was primarily driven by Ellington’s sound and aesthetic, while “Jump” paid tribute to Marsalis’s mentor, trumpeter Sweets Edison, with a rocking blast of red hot horns. The last three pieces from “Big Train” closed the set, moving from tender trombone to the discordant blast and squealing brakes of the express train. Marsalis’s dedication to honouring jazz history prompted a Roaring Twenties tune as an encore and a standing ovation.

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