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Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Mesa, AZ, March 8, 2013

Patricia Myers By

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Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
Mesa Arts Center
Mesa, AZ
March 8, 2013

The 25th anniversary concert by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis was an homage to the past, sparked by elements of modernism with a mix of standards by Duke Ellington, Gerry Mulligan and Chick Corea, plus originals by band members.

The repertoire ranged from the 1920s to the 1960s, with an emphasis on swing played by 15 of the top soloists and section players in jazz. This elegant aggregation delivered well-rehearsed arrangements with Ellington-style shadings and space for short improvisations and solos by Marsalis, who sat in the trumpet section. His solos were less flashy and pyrotech-y, diverse in style and color, and always with the exquisite technique for which he is renowned.

The opening chart was "The Creation," composed by JLCO trombonist Chris Crenshaw, based on the biblical message of a 1929 poem by James Weldon Johnson. It began tranquilly but turned explosive via solo exchanges among Crenshaw, trumpeter Marcus Printup and Victor Goines on flute.

Mulligan's "Festive Minor" created a fugue-like feel through interplay of the piano, baritone sax and bass, sparked by a brief Marsalis solo. Corea's "Windows" was a polyrhythmic change-up that featured Ted Nash's flute and alto sax against Dan Nimmer's agile piano work. The vintage "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" was a new arrangement by altoist Sherman Irby that featured a sassy trumpet section and plunger-muted trombones a la Ellington, punctuated by Walter Blanding's tenor and a vocal by trombonist Vincent Gardner, who inexplicably stayed seated throughout.

The solid swing of "Braggin' in Brass" was illuminated by muted trumpets and blended trombones, true to Ellington's delivery of his 1938 Cotton Club prize, Printup's trumpet soaring above and beyond. High contrast came from Mulligan's "Swing House" with the trumpets utilizing Derby mutes against the spark of Goines' tenor and Printup's horn.

"Two Threes Adventure" was an original by bassist Carlos Henriquez that brought a lively Latin-Cuban vibe. His vigorous bass solo worked a segment with just piano and drummer Ali Jackson's claves rhythm, with later interpositions by trumpeter Kenny Rampton and Irby's alto sax underscored by Super Sax-style work by the reeds section.

An element of surprise was injected when vocalist and Arizona resident George Benson stepped from the wings to scat the changes to "Blues in Hoss' Flat," a Frank Foster hit originally for Count Basie that featured Goines on tenor and Marsalis soloing with a plunger mute. Two elements likely produced this cameo: Benson's upcoming Nat King Cole tribute album for Concord Records is with a 42-piece orchestra that includes Marsalis; also, Foster won a Grammy in 1988 for Benson's composition "Basie's Bag" as best instrumental jazz arrangement. The concert ended with Kenny Dorham's "Stage West" as the setting for a blazing tenor battle between Blanding and Goines that was filled with their exhilarating interplay of 16th- and 32nd-note acrobatics.

Earlier in the day, 1,500 students were brought to the center to hear the orchestra, but minus Marsalis—who arrived later by car from Las Vegas, as usual eschewing domestic air travel from the band's previous concert.

Photo Credit

Fred Carneau

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