Out Here To Swing!

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Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra

Wes ‘Warmdaddy’ Anderson (alto & sopranino saxophone)
Walter Blanding Jr (tenor saxophone)
Victor Goines (tenor/soprano saxophones & clarinets)
Ted Nash (alto/soprano saxophones & clarinets)
Joe Temperley (baritone/soprano saxophones & bass clarinet)
Vincent R. Gardner (trombone)
Andre Hayward (trombone)
Ron Westray (trombone)
Sean Jones (trumpet)
Marcus Printup (trumpet)
Walter White (trumpet)
Eric Lewis (piano)
Carlos Henriquez (double bass)
Herlin Riley (drums)
Jennifer Sanon (vocalist)

Wynton Marsalis (trumpet & director)


Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 31 July, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Back after Wynton Marsalis brought it to Kensington for its Proms debut two years ago, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra returned in a blaze of swing for this late-night Prom.

These very smart men of jazz (all nattily dressed in shades of grey) delivered a couple of hours of utterly infectious music, ensuring (and enshrining) jazz’s heritage, the history of the truly American art-form and furthering it in live performance.

Phil Schaap’s introductory note, in detailing the blues, calls-and-responses, riffs and breaks, may have had the arid whiff of academe, but at least afforded the listener a background through which to enjoy the unfolding of what seemed like every jazzer’s trick in the book, starting with a roll-call of drumming techniques, splendidly delivered by Herlin Riley, in the extended concerto written by him and Marsalis, Evolution of the Groove.

Cast in five movements (“really four parts and a tag” read the note), each having its own percussion rhythm. Marsalis in his spoken introduction said we’d know when we’d reached the final movement “on the second entry of the tambourine” and Riley made this a visual as well as an aural statement. Rhythm was very much the order of the day, and Riley’s expertise could never be doubted, nor the developing clapping and foot-stompin’ in which each band member joined.

Jazz history was called to mind in a number of ways. Charles Mingus’s Dizzy Moods came next in Ron Westray’s arrangement. Marsalis pointed out Britain’s importance in the history of jazz – not just taking Ellington seriously; while ignored in America, he could start fulfilling his artistry here – but also saluting British composer George Shearing with Lullaby of Birdland, sung delectably by Jennifer Sanon, whom Marsalis remarked was just out of “high school”, but recourse to her biography confirmed it was what we would call college – the New World School of the Arts in Miami (training ground also for the New World Symphony).

Next came jazz filtered through flamenco in Ted Nash’s La espada de la noche, premièred last year as part of a collaboration in New York with musicians from Barcelona. Scottish saxophonist Joe Temperley (another British connection) was featured soloist in Billie Holiday’s number Fine and Mellow, accompanying Sanon, while Ornette Coleman received a tribute in new big-band arrangements first heard earlier this year (with Coleman in the audience) at Lincoln Center. Starting with ‘Professor’ Eric Lewis not so much at the keyboard, but in the piano, brushing and plucking the strings over the sounding board, à la John Cage to insidiously ingratiating effect. Marsalis himself forsook the trumpet and took up the washboard instead in this version of Ramblin’.

Marsalis announced the closing number, the final section of Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige – Symphonette, a title reminiscent of classical music highly appropriate to the Proms and appropriately infected by that thing called swing.

It wasn’t quite the end. Marsalis returned with just five players – drummer Riley, bass Carlos Henriquez, pianist Lewis, trombone Vincent R. Gardner and saxophone Walter Blanding Jr – for one last number, in which Marsalis, in his stratospheric virtuosity, eventually got a chance to shine. Midnight had come (so soon!) and the mood swung to travel mode.

By my reckoning, Marsalis should be bringing his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra back in 2006. Let’s hope so.

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