The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) is often derided as a bastion of conservatism, although it's not clear what is conservative about an epic like trumpeter Wynton Marsalis
' Congo Square
(Blue Note, 2007), with its volleys of Ghanaian percussion and ensemble-singing in the Ga and Fante dialects. For that matter, the JLCO accommodates boundary-pushing musicians like Ted Nash, who holds a multi-woodwinds chair while still doing offbeat work with the likes of bassist Ben Allison
and pianist Frank Kimbrough
not to mention his own groups, including Odeon and Still Evolved. Portrait in Seven Shades
is Nash's entry as an JLCO resident composer and the focus here is avowedly European (a stark contrast with Congo Square
's Africa via New Orleans). Each of the seven movements takes inspiration not only from a particular painter, but also from a set of specific canvases in that artist's oeuvre, as explained in the CD booklet. The orchestration points to Duke Ellington
and Gil Evans
in roughly equal measure, although hard-bitten blues vocabulary plays an overt role, most notably in Dan Nimmer's swinging piano trio setup on "Matisse." Perhaps most striking is the unsettled 13/8 meter and smeary high-register brass of "Dali," which apportions solo space between trumpeter Marcus Printup
, drummer Ali Jackson and Nash on alto saxophone.
JLCO head and star trumpeter Wynton Marsalis follows trombonist Vincent Gardner
with a fiery statement on the multi-sectioned, cubist-inspired "Picasso." Gardner returns for a romantic, Johnny Hartman
-esque vocal featuresomething altogether new in Nash's writingon the ballad "Van Gogh," again offset by Marsalis as the featured horn. Later, jittery swing and tumbling swirls of eighth notes set the stage for the closing "Pollock." Only "Chagall," with accordionist Bill Schimmel, violinist Nathalie Bonin and tubaist Wycliffe Gordon
articulating Jewish/Eastern European themes, seems a bit strained and obvious in trying to connect sound and subject matter. The other movements leave more to the imagination. Listeners are free to read Nash's lucid explanations in the notes or simply let the music connect the dots.