By Fernando Gonzalez
Miami, Florida. Can we have Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in some juke joint or hole-in-the-wall neighborhood jazz club just once? Just for the fun of it. It will probably never happen – economics wouldn’t allow that, for starters. But listening to, and watching, Marsalis and the JLCO at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami, Friday, part of the JAZZ ROOTS series, was to wish for a setting that would have them take their jackets off, their ties loosened up and let it all hang out. We got perfection, thank you. Now just preach, brother. It was that good — and tantalizing.
For all the seriousness with which he has tackled his role in jazz and American culture, there has always been something of a mischievous streak to Marsalis’s work and approach. Maybe it’s New Orleans. Maybe it’s just jazz itself — a music that at its best is both deep and joyful. Friday, both aspects were present, the serious, preservers-of-the-tradition ensemble playing, impeccably referencing Ellington and the big band tradition, and the let’s-have-a-good-time blowing.
The first half of the program had the more somber hue, as it was comprised of Marsalis’ music including pieces from the Oratorio Blood on the Fields, the Abyssinian 200 Mass, and the Spanish-tinged “The Tree of Freedom,” from the Vitoria Suite.
The second part, which opened with an off-the-program appearance by violinist Mark O’Connor for a delightful version of “Corrine, Corrina” with a seven piece group off the Orchestra, had more of the feel of a blowing session – if a tightly structured one. It included a nice arrangement of Horace Silver’s “Señor Blues,” a reading of Kenny Dorham’s “Trompetta Tocatta,” set up as a Ryan Kisor feature, and closed, appropriately, with “The Caboose,” a selection from Big Train, a 1999 extended work by Marsalis that plays, in part, as an Ellington tribute.
There was some exceptional soloing – and to name the soloists would mean just about to name every player in the band, as they all seemed to have at least one featured moment and made the most of it. But with the JLCO, the ensemble is the star of the show. The writing makes the most of the section work, setting up calls and responses, countermelodies and lush backgrounds. And the execution, including the band’s casually forceful swing and its care for dynamics, has by now an impressive exactness and sheen. There is a risk in that too, but Friday there were enough touches of humor and passion throughout to keep things loose and inviting. More of that can only make Marsalis and the JLCO even more effective.
Photos by Manny Hernandez.
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