The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, Partying Like It's 1959: Live Last Night

Live Last Night

The year 1959 wasn't a very good one in jazz -- it was phenomenal one.

No surprise, then, to find an overflow crowd at Baird Auditorium on Saturday night, eager to hear six members of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra revisit landmark recordings of Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus.

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

The first half of the program was largely devoted to the signature Davis album, "Kind Of Blue." The five tunes that comprise the recording featured solo choruses that were at once evocative and distinctive. That was certainly the case when trumpeter Tom Williams was featured on "Blue In Green," a performance that not only conjured the glinting tone of Davis' muted horn but quietly revealed Williams' soulful lyricism. With the emphasis on modal tunes, bassist James King played a key role, nimbly introducing and sustaining motifs that set into motion "So What" and "All Blues."

The second half of the concert was more expansive, playful and exhilarating. Tenor saxophonist Luis Hernandez negotiated the swiftly shifting tonal centers on Coltrane's "Giants Steps" with extraordinary ease, while alto saxophonist Charlie Young, who hosted the concert, helped imbue the ensemble's performance of Mingus' "Fables Of Faubus" with a sense of absurdist theater.

Pianist Tony Nalker, sitting in for the disparate likes of Brubeck and McCoy Tyner, demonstrated winning versatility, and drummer Ken Kimery balanced lightly swinging pulses with orchestral shadings. Part of Smithsonian's Jazz Appreciation Month festivities, the concert, in abbreviated form, will be repeated at Howard University's Childers Hall this afternoon at 1 p.m.

-- MIKE JOYCE

By J. Freedom du Lac |  April 6, 2009; 8:05 AM ET Live Last Night
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