Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis at the Barbican
Wynton Marsalis is timeless. He looks like he might be pushing himself too far, trying things he once could accomplish with evident ease, and yet he creases himself over, eyes clenched shut, and he can still do anything – a true master of the trumpet.
Marsalis’s huge name and exquisite playing are just the cherry on top of the extraordinary outfit that is the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. This is a big band that does it right. Their members’ own dazzling arrangements of standards and, in some cases, original compositions formed the programme of this exceptional evening of jazz at the Barbican. “Exceptional” really is the word: down to a player, this group’s musicianship is rare and astonishing.
The evening’s first half had an air of, “Right, here is some serious jazz for ya.” Technique was king and in no short supply; solo after solo astounded, piling into an overwhelmingly impressive whole. Trumpeter Marcus Printup’s arrangement of Great Love from the Forever Swing Suite (dedicated to the band’s late former bass saxophonist, Joe Temperley) was performed with enchanting tenderness by Paul Nedzela, who now occupies the seat. Trombonist Elliot Mason absolutely dazzled with masterful flare in The Father from Marsalis’s own Abyssinian Mass.
In the second half, the group brought a more “Let us entertain you” affair, and this immaculate balance is what really makes them stand out from the rest. Even the softest, most tenderly delivered solos carry through with clarity, which is not only charming in itself, but also allows the really fruity tutti moments and face-splitting stab chords to thrill even more in comparison. Big Fat Alice’s Blues, led by Herman Erbie on the alto sax, was a highlight – so dulcet and free, and utterly enchanting.
This was a showcase of 15 world-class performers on-stage, but the result was an entirely coherent and splendid ensemble. Quite an evening of music making.
Photo: Luigi Beverelli