Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra: Live Last Night

Live Last Night

By Mike Joyce

"The Harlem Renaissance Revue," presented at the Lincoln Theatre on Friday night, couldn't have ended on a more fitting or evocative note. The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra capped the concert by nimbly conjuring the Duke Ellington Orchestra's landmark Depression-era residency at Harlem's Cotton Club.

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

The evening wasn't short on celebrities or gifted artists drawn from local theater and dance troupes, including the Washington Reflections Dance Company. Actors Jasmine Guy, Blair Underwood and Isaiah Washington helped host the show and contributed poetry and prose readings that often underscored how Washington's African American U Street culture profoundly affected the Harlem Renaissance. The second half of the program, however, was largely devoted to the SJMO's performance of familiar and seldom-heard pieces drawn from the Ellington band's early repertoire.

For the occasion, the SMJO fielded a 13-member ensemble that featured guest guitarist-banjoist Royce Campbell, who helped propel a delightful series of arrangements that were as compact as they were colorful. Sumptuous woodwind orchestrations ("Mood Indigo") were juxtaposed with joyous brass charts ("Jubilee Stomp") and though soloing was kept to a minimum, several musicians stood out -- alto saxophonist Charlie Young, trumpeter Tom Williams, trombonist Bill Holmes and reedmen Scott Silbert and Robert Lanham, among others.

The SJMO is renowned for reviving classic jazz tunes with an engaging blend of fidelity and finesse, and both virtues were apparent throughout the performance, thanks in part to a rhythm section well versed in stop-time breaks and the fluid motion of seminal swing.

By David Malitz |  September 21, 2009; 11:27 AM ET Live Last Night
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