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Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: Toronto, February 1, 2011

Alain Londes By

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Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
Massey Hall
Toronto, Canada
February 1, 2011

If big band fans relish their enjoyment of musical artistry, then the 15-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) would have to be on their shortlist. The venerable Massey Hall was appropriately sold out for this performance of the current Vitoria Suite (Emarcy, 2010) tour. Not even the threat of a major regional snow storm could keep people away. The Suite gets its name from the city in the Basque region of Spain where Wynton Marsalis and the band frequently tour as part of their busy road schedule. The musicians have developed a clear appreciation for the local jazz festival, as well as the city.

The relaxed and always sharp-looking band kicked things off with the fast-swinging "Mendizorrotza Swing," the 12th and last movement of the recording, that parallels a 12-bar blues. Other selections from the Vitoria Suite included the 3/4 "Tree of Freedom," and "Jason and Jasone," with Victor Goines using his clarinet to depict the two kids from the song's title at play.

If the JLCO originally focused mainly on the Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong traditions, it has certainly broadened its musical horizons as well spread the wealth of arrangements amongst its talented musicians. Trombonist Chris Crenshaw led a rendition of "Bearden (The Block)," after African-American artist and writer Romare Bearden, the melody starting out with the trombone section, supported by the saxophones contributing deep moods. It eventually slid into a tasteful ballad solo by Goines, on tenor sax. The next image of the collage was a bit reminiscent of a rhythmic hand-clapping and foot-stomping clip from Marsalis' earlier Blood On The Fields (Sony, 1997) project. Later, in the spirit of a recent tour to Cuba, bassist Carlos Henriquez added some Afro-Cuban clavé and cha-cha-cha textures with "2-3's Adventure." Ted Nash's take on Thelonious Monk's "Skippy" showed how these musicians were able to tackle an admittedly criss-crossing tune with precision.

For a connection to a classic orchestra, Count Basie's "I Left My Baby (Standing In The Back Door Crying)" was complemented by Crenshaw, showcasing his blues vocal talents with the saxophones in the background, anchored by the rhythm section. Trumpeter Marcus Printup followed with a spirited solo, Henriquez emphasizing the chords and followed by a distinctively emotional contribution from tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding, Jr.

The last piece was trombonist Vincent Gardner's arrangement of Chick Corea's "Matrix." An added original touch found the rhythm section continuing to play as the rest of the band left the stage, rather than the show coming to a complete stop. Marsalis eventually came back for an encore, swinging next to pianist Dan Nimmer, as the audience was treated to a quartet close.

The JLCO proved, during its Toronto performance, that it is healthily continuing to expand its repertoire into new territory, while inspiring musicians to reach for big band virtuosity.

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