Los Angeles Music Review: JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA WITH WYNTON MARSALIS (Disney Hall)

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by Jesse David Corti on March 18, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

THE PRIDE OF JAZZ PURITANS

Wynton Marsalis has received a plethora of awards from numerous countries, committees and academies for his talents and contributions to the world as a musician, arranger, composer, and cultural ambassador. In 2009, he received the Insignia Chevalier of the Legion of Honor from France; it’s the equivalent of attaining knighthood in the UK. French Ambassador Pierre Vimont introduced Marsalis at the ceremony and stated, “I strongly believe that, for you, jazz is more than just a musical form. It is tradition, it is part of American history and culture and life. To you, jazz is the sound of democracy. And from this democratic nature of jazz derives openness, generosity, and universality.”

Indeed for Marsalis, Jazz is that tradition celebrated with dutiful respect to its icons, presented in a classy and formal manner, and performed with those who are well-versed, actively engaged, and technically proficient in the genre. Led by Marsalis, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) executed a swift, intermissionless, 100-minute program of selections ranging from classic Ellington swing to original compositions for a crowd of sophisticates, socialites, and the likes of my young self at Walt Disney Concert Hall last week, presented by LA Philharmonic.

This 25th anniversary tour is celebrated with verve and panache; established by Mr. Marsalis, JLCO is a tight, well-oiled machine performing every song with tenacity and technical proficiency. The Orchestra of 15 dressed formally in suit and tie, save for drummer Ali Jackson who played without a jacket. The evening started with Trombone player Chris Crenshaw’s “The Creation Song,” a dynamic piece that sonically blended elements of chaos and order with slow-building crescendos and jolting sforzandos, immediately setting the evening’s context: a slick and punchy orchestra that occasionally ventured to the wild side.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of WYNTON MARSALIS LA Phil at Disney Hall

A highlight was the difficult Ellington composition, “Braggin’ in Brass” (recorded only once by Duke and his Orchestra). The trombones adroitly handled the multiple triplet and trill-laden passages with clarity and bite. Marsalis followed the trombones and ripped into a solo that was impressive for its stratospheric fluttering and well-timed accents. Baritone Saxophone player Paul Nedzela, celebrating his birthday, gave a lilting, light and fluid performance of Gerry Mulligan’s “Lonesome Boulevard.” The other surprise of the evening was when alto saxophone player Tim Nash’s father (trombone player, Dick Nash, 85 years young) joined his son and JLCO for “All the Things You Are,” specially arranged to showcase the nimble Nashes playing in endearing harmony and whimsical counterpoint. Towards the end of the program, JLCO performed the opening part of Duke Ellington’s Afro-Eurasian Suite, the audacious and texture-shifting “Chinoiserie,” and Sherman Irby’s dark, foreboding “Insatiable Hunger” from a ballet based on Dante’s Inferno. As some players left the stage, the rhythm section and Marsalis remained to deliver one last piece: a slow, slinky blues that let Marsalis shine one last time before he sauntered off the stage.

Marsalis said that in his estimation there are only two composers who were daring and creative for a steady string of fifty years: Duke Ellington and Johann Sebastian Bach. Listening to JLCO at Disney Hall and reviewing Marsalis’ own work as bandleader and composer, one can gather that he continually strives for the sort of legacy his idol (Ellington) has. And what he may lack in “daring” (preferring to restrict his performances to what he defines as “true jazz“), he certainly makes up for with his boffo ensemble, technical artistry and polish.

photo courtesy of LA Phil

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
presented by LA Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall
played March 12, 2013
for future LA Phil events, visit http://www.laphil.com/

for more info on JLCO, visit http://www.jalc.org

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