Live Last Night: Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra

The delight was in the details when the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra unveiled "The New Jazz Standards" at the National Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium on Saturday night.

The concert was, at first blush, a celebration of the works of numerous NEA Jazz Masters, each of whom was represented by either a familiar composition or one deserving greater exposure. But it soon became apparent that the arrangers responsible for framing these themes, a task accomplished with great sensitivity and imagination, were the real stars of the evening.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

Subtly tinted and vibrantly propelled by turns, the settings devised by John La Barbera, Bob Florence and other arrangers surfaced alongside several original or carefully transcribed charts of jazz classics. David Berger's transcription of Billy Strayhorn's "Star Crossed Lovers," for example, triggered a gorgeous, noir-ish rhapsody, enhanced by Charlie Young's remarkably fluid alto sax. La Barbera's take on Miles Davis' "So What," another highlight, recast the modal tune in surprising, richly orchestrated colors.

Under the expert direction of David N. Baker, the orchestra often drew on blues forms and shadings for inspiration, beginning with Bob Belden's now swinging, now swaggering arrangement of Joe Henderson's "Step Lightly."

At times, the orchestrations dissolved altogether, allowing room for crisp, small combo interludes, but more often the emphasis was on harmonic power and nuance, as during the winning performances of Tadd Dameron's "Ladybird" and Baker's "To Dizzy With Love." In addition to Young, several soloists stood out, including saxophonists Scott Silbert, Chris Vadala and Leigh Pilzer , and trumpeters Tom Williams and Kenny Rittenhouse.

-- MIKE JOYCE

By J. Freedom du Lac |  February 22, 2009; 1:04 PM ET Live Last Night
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Tom Williams rocks on the trumpet, check out his work on some of Jimmy Heath's recent recordings. Interestingly enough, Tom told me his first love is percussion and he's quite a good drummer.

Posted by: jhwpro | February 22, 2009 1:46 PM

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