Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra/ Wynton Marsalis/ The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Review- A pair of Delightful Concerts at Symphony Center

Wynton Marsalis, trumpet virtuoso, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) returned to Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, for a multi-day residency March 1- March 3, 2017, which included school programs and two concerts. The first concert, on Wednesday, March 1st, was part of The 86th season of Symphony Center Presents. That series incepted in 1994; the JCLO visited Orchestra Hall that first season and has returned almost every season since. The second concert, on Friday, March 3rd was a Special Concert Program.

Wynton Marsalis; photo by Frank Stewart

Wednesday’s concert featured Marsalis and the JLCO performing 9 original pieces (and an additional work in encore) by JLCO members. On Friday, Marsalis and the JLCO performed along with The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, led by Guest Conductor Edwin Outwater, known as “a visionary programmer”, and consisted of both classical and jazz selections by Glinka, Mussorgsky, Duke Ellington and Marsalis himself, with an amazing encore of blues improvisation by the JLCO with members of the CSO joining in. Rob Kassinger, CSO bass, took over JLCO bass Carlos Henriquez’ instrument and wailed away!

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; photo by Anne Ryan

 On March 1st, the recent works of JLCO members, each celebrating a specific decade of American jazz excellence, took prominence during the spirited concert of solo/ group virtuosity. The event opened with Marsalis’ own “Offertory” from his “Abyssinian Mass”, 2013, written to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. The work displays a joyous spiritual verve with enormous power and a bluesy feel.  Next, bass Carlos Henriquez’ piece from his “The Bronx Pyramid” dug deep into the composer’s Latin roots combined with the sounds of New York City.  It was loungey and romantic with a dance feel and a big band swing.

 Trumpet Marcus Printup’s “Sidewalk Swagger”, and his song in memory of saxophone Joe Temperley, two very different pieces, were both beautifully rendered. The first was a smart and catchy, fast-paced ode to the 1930’s and 40’s, written to evoke a man feeling fine and sashaying down “Broadway or Wabash”, the second a song filled with great love and underlying sad sentiment.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis; photo by Frank Stewart

  Another stellar selection was saxophone/clarinet Ted Nash’s “Jawaharlal Nehru” movement, “Spoken at Midnight” from his “Presidential Suite: Eight Variations on Freedom”. It is a complex piece, stunningly translated and inventive. Nash’s own solo was impressively strong and sincere. It came to a high resolution with pianist Dan Nimmer’s hands working furiously on the upper registers of the Steinway, and ended with a tinkling of cymbals.

  There followed the notable “Pursuit of the New Thing” by Chris Crenshaw, section leader, trombone, from his “The Fifties: A Prism” composition, a perfect showcase for the versatility and breadth of this fine ensemble. As Crenshaw remarked, “Ted Nash and Wynton Marsalis will state the theme and we’ll go from there”. Marsalis poured out molten-golden sounds, amid unusual time signatures and pauses while Ted Nash, saxophone/flute/clarinet, vibed right along with him.

Wynton Marsalis and The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; photo by Frank Stewart

  The penultimate work of this great concert was composed by Vincent Gardner, trombone, who curated the work of the 1940’s for the concert. His “Ooh Yadoodle E Blu For Me and You: A Bop Celebration”, was dedicated to Dizzy Gillespie.  Marsalis extolled Gardner as a superb singer, historian, teacher and a musician with “great ears”. Gardner explained how Gillespie stressed the importance of rhythm and searched for new percussive sounds in the Afro/Latin tradition. This piece focused on inventiveness, harmony and the use of chord changes. At the end the musicians all chanted together in quiet tones, “Dizzy is the drums”.

 The final selection was “The It Thing” from “Untamed Elegance” by Victor Goines, saxophone/clarinet, inspired by the sounds, styles and culture of the 1920’s, the Prohibition years. This was an upbeat, hot and sweet work, beginning with a gorgeous slow drawl and turning driving and elegant.

Wynton Marsalis with members of The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performing with The Chicago Symphony Orchestra; photo by Anne Ryan

 The modern rollicking encore was “Drunk as a Skunk” from Victor  Goines’ ”Untamed Elegance”- it blew the audience out on a cloud of undistilled joy.

 The concert on March 3 was very different, but likewise an evening of unparalleled sound, very exciting and uptempo. Conductor Edwin Outwater, enthused and ebullient, was more than equal to the challenge of both great orchestras. Everybody on stageappeared to enjoy and encourage each other with obvious and open enjoyment in a true collaboration.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing with Wynton Marsalis and The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; photo by Anne Ryan

 The Chicago Symphony opened the concert with “Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila”, by Mikhail Glinka, premiere performance 1842- the most spirited version this reviewer has heard yet. The music was finished, fluent, enthusiastic and exuberant. The choice of the most popular piece of music from this opera was a fine set-up for the main section of the concert to follow, “Pictures at an Exhibition”, by Modest Mussorgsky, 1874, as arranged by Maurice Ravel in 1922 and adapted by members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Glinka’s piece opens in Kiev, and Mussorgsky’s closes with the great tolling bells and carillons of the imaginary gates of Kiev.

 In between these two, however, the CSO preformed 3 selections from “The River”, by Duke Ellington, 1970, “Spring”, “Meander” and “Giggling Rapids”. The pieces are lovely, evocative of the prelude to summer, and to water movement, but also contain an obvious spiritual quality.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the reed section of The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performing "Tuileries Swing"; photo by Anne Ryan

 During the dual performance of “Pictures”, the repeated “Promenade” sections which introduce, link together and run through all the 10 movements, were traded off between the CSO and the JLCO. Immediately recognizable, deep and sonorous, with the addition of the jazz interpretation here they were even more impressive and welcoming. Some of the adapted imagery- especially in “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle” contained humorous and clever portions. "The Tuileries”, “The Old Castle” and “Baba Yaga” were all updated and reminiscent of American climes and traditions. Remarkably, however, the infusion of jazz never strayed too far from the classical context. The rousing finale celebrating the imaginary gates was as always, thrilling- here, closing as it opened, with the CSO performing alone, it was dramatic in the extreme.

Maestro Edwin Outwater conducts a section from Wynton Marsalis' "Swing Symphony"; photo by Anne Ryan

 The final selection, Wynton Marsalis’ “All- American Pep” from his “Swing Symphony”, 2010, performed by both orchestras, is a demanding work that blends jazz and blues with classical music. It’s a journey, as was the concert earlier in the week, through jazz history, packed with color and energy. 

 After vigorous and insistent ovations, the JLCO performed an Ellington standard, “C-Jam Blues”, 1942, with bass Rob Kassinger on an improvised riff (described above) and other CSO members  swinging away. The music grew slowly to an easy-going climax to the great delight of those on stage as well as in the audience.

CSO bass Rob Kassinger with JLCO bass Carlos Henriquez; photo by Anne Ryan

 As guest conductor Outwater said (quoted by Jack Zimmerman for CSO Sounds and Stories,) “The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra will be placed right in the middle of the stage and surrounded by the CSO…It’s great fun to have two orchestras at the absolute top of their game interacting like this”. It was great fun for the audience, too!

For more information and tickets to all the great programs at Symphony Center, go to www.cso.org



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