Live Last Night: Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performance at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall last night wasn't devoted to extended works. Instead the program delighted listeners with a series of multifaceted, multi-hued, mood-shifting orchestrations, old and new, inspired in part by the 70th anniversary of the renowned Blue Note Records label.

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

Presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society, the concert began on a whimsical note with two delightfully animated arrangements: a barn-burning version of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" and a diabolical take on "Itsy Bitsy Spider," designed to give everyone within earshot the creeps.

The 15-member ensemble, led by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, then unveiled richly orchestrated vignettes based on the compositions of Thelonious Monk, Kenny Dorham, Benny Carter, Sidney Bechet and other jazz luminaries.

Marsalis joked at one point that he likes to write or feature arrangements that the reed and trombone sections find almost impossible to play. The lushly harmonized and nuanced setting he created for Carter's romantic ballad "Again and Again," alluringly arranged for saxophones and rhythm section, was a prime example.

But the trumpet ranks were similarly challenged throughout the evening, especially during Dorham's "Trompeta Toccata" and the Duke Ellington flag-waver "Braggin' in Brass."

Indeed, Marsalis himself had his work cut out for him when the ensemble was pared to a sextet for Bechet's "Weary Blues," a vibrantly polyphonic misnomer if ever there was one. The large ensemble arrangements, however, took full advantage of the orchestra's deep talent pool and the blend of artistry and ingenuity displayed by trumpeter Ryan Kisor, saxophonist Sherman Irby, trombonist-arranger Vincent Gardner, clarinetist Victor Goines and bassist Carlos Henriquez.


By J. Freedom du Lac |  March 17, 2009; 5:23 PM ET Live Last Night
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