20 August 2023

From NYC, the event

I'm never harsh in my writings here as I feel anyone taking on the task of jazz is committing to a demanding artistic pursuit with little obvious remuneration.  So I am not harsh with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.  They presented a fabulously capable concert here in Canberra with skills of a high level and with a hint at modernity.  But I felt somewhat underwhelmed.  I can feel that way given expectations of huge names and concert halls full of people I don't see at Smiths (although some of them were there too, but not all of them) and the very thing of jazz in a concert hall also has this effect on me.  So how did I find the group?  Some very capable playing and some solos bordering on inspirational; some superbly sweet harmonies and colours in support.  We don't often see a jazz big band, and it felt more that than jazz orchestra for much of the concert, so I found it quite educative, too, in understanding the roles of the sections, the saxes and trombones and trumpets and what colours were which and how they worked together and why and how the intensity would grow from reeds to lower brass to trumpets, not to mention the lovely harmonies inherent in the sections.  Both are obvious but not something I'd too much not put my mind to before.  I was also intrigued by how often the band would be just the rhythm section and a soloist.  It's obvious when you think of it, but so glaringly obvious when on stage in front of you.   I guess it happens in orchestras, too, with unused players looking distant even uninterested, whereas (mostly) they are counting and following.  But I was taken by the glorious colours nonetheless.  I found the audio balance a bit odd at times.  I was not so sure of the mix but there were mics on each instrument and it was obviously mixed.  I could mostly identify an instrument when I thought of it but not always with the presence I expected.  And the playing?  Very nice, as you would expect.  I was amused by some solo plays between instruments and admired some more dissonant lines at times and the chops were clearly always there.  Wynton's solos were immensely capable and always lyrical.  I think my fave was one I heard from him in the rehearsal, a bit more intriguing in timing and melodic turns while still eminently tonal.  And the repertoire?  Two sets, each of 5 tunes, and one stangely muted encore.  Set 1 was Monk, Laura, a fascinating latin outing on Jelly Roll, then a ballad and a baseball theme; set 2 was Wayne Shorter for Art Blakey, Ellington/Strayhorn, nicely African feels with Man from Tanganyika from MaCoy Tyner, a very early Mingus love song with vocals (!?!: nothing like the Mingus I know and admire), an interesting modern 3/4 from trombonist Vincent Gardner; for encore, a mild blues, Ellington Blues form orbit.  I was also amused by Wynton's educative commentary, I guess introducing the jazz-unwashed into the essence of improv, chuckling while suggesting he'd missed phrases and the like (not that we noticed!), and giving some background on Jelly Roll and Art Blakey and Mingus and more.  So this was wonderfully capable, distant being in a concert hall, somewhat of an era, quite informative and classy.  Any more?  In these days of identity, I'll mention one woman amongst the men and a colour-blind mix of white and black.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis performed at the new Snow Concert Hall at Canberra Grammar School.   The orchestra comprised Wynton Marsalis (host, trumpet), Obed Calvaire (drums, tambourine), Carlos Henriquez (bass), Dan Nimmer (piano), Ryan Kisor (trumpet),  Kenny Rampton (trumpet), Marcus Printup (trumpet), Chris Crenshaw (trombone), Vincent Gardner (trombone), Elliot Mason (trombone), Victor Goines (tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), Ted Nash (alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, flute, piccolo), Sherman Irby (alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, flute), Nicole Glover (tenor sax, clarinet), Paul Nedzela (baritone sax, bass clarinet).

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