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The Train Theory: The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in Performance

Nick Catalano By

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In the most intriguing performance to date, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Wynton Marsalis presented a series of compositions focusing on trains. "Full Steam Ahead" (on Feb. 25th) was an attempt to demonstrate the influence of "locomotive onomatopoeia" (as Albert Murray phrases it in the program notes) on the percussive emphasis in Jazz. Murray states that North American syncopation is different from the West African percussion from which it is derived and different from the Afro-Cuban percussion to which it is related. This difference is due primarily to the rhythms and sounds associated with trains.

This theory may be idiosyncratic but the LCJO did its best to flush out important "train music" from the pens of Ellington, Monk, Marsalis and others in a mélange of brilliantly arranged music that delighted the audience.

The band opened with "Happy Go Lucky Local" from Ellington's "Deep South Suite" and cleverly inserted quotations from the 50's hit "Night Train." Monk's "Little Rootie Tootie" featured exciting solo work from saxophonist Joe Temperley and guest bassist Rodney Whitaker. In Wycliffe Gordon's composition "West End Choo Choo," Marsalis started matters off with a dramatic quotation from Louis Armstrong's immortal introduction to "West End Blues" and the band followed with vocal sections that recalled some of the down-home folk blues of yore. Guest vocalist Jennifer Sanon showed great promise as she uncovered some novel blues phrasing in "The Railroad Blues". Guest guitarist Doug Wamble played some exhilarating harmonic lines in Marsalis's new composition "Due South" and Marsalis articulated some of the clearest eighth note improvisational sequences he has played in a while in "Jump" — the last movement of a ballet piece written for Twyla Tharp.

The concert was pivotal for two reasons. The idea of chronicling "train music" as a central metaphor in the development of North American percussion style may be contentious but it certainly opens an inquiry which deserves study. What better place for such study than Jazz at Lincoln Center? Lastly, the compositions and arrangements (especially Hall Overton's orchestration of Monk's "Little Rootie Tootie") offered the LCJO a unique opportunity to showcase its continually emerging cohesiveness and versatility. Marsalis and his men met the challenge successfully.

In an upcoming CD set for release March 22nd on Telarc, John Pizzarelli explores some classic material from tin pan alley masters Sammy Cahn, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mandel, and Jimmy McHugh. Featured in the session are a stellar cast of sidemen including Larry Goldings, Ken Peplowski, Tony Monte, Harry Allen, Bucky Pizzarelli and singer Jessica Molaskey, along with trio regulars Ray Kennedy and Martin Pizzarelli. Knowing You contains straight ahead vocal and instrumental performances effortlessly performed by one of the most consistently swinging groups presently on the scene.


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