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culture

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Take Massey Hall

The sharp-dressed jazz band from New York blew the roof off Massey Hall on Thursday night.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, on stage at Massey Hall Thursday night.

When the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra took the stage at Massey Hall on Thursday night, and music director and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis told the capacity crowd the band would be starting with “Calling The Indians Out,” from his Pulitzer Prize winning jazz oratorio, Blood on the Fields, there was thunderous applause. Then, almost scoldingly, a bemused Marsalis warned them, “Don’t clap first.”

Such is the mark of a musician who is always striving to move forward, even while working to preserve the past. If nine Grammy Awards and the worldwide sale of nearly five million copies of his recordings haven’t made Marsalis complacent, one has to wonder if anything would.

Much of the evening’s program was dedicated to Marsalis’ own compositions, written for big band, in a nod to his yearlong celebration of his fiftieth birthday.

Along with “Blood on the Fields,” we heard “Bamboula Dance,” from Congo Square (co-written by Yacub Addy), which is a composition dedicated to the New Orleans landmark that was the original breeding ground for jazz. Victor Goines, whom Marsalis called “perhaps the last of the great Creole clarinetists from New Orleans,” was featured on that number.

After New Orleans, we headed to New York with two works from a mass Marsalis composed for the 200th anniversary of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. The throbbing bass line, call-and-response goodness, and singing alto sax of Sherman Irby on “You’ve Got to Watch the Holy Ghost” was enough to make this brunch-loving atheist understand why all those folks get up so early on Sunday mornings.

The official program ended with the climax of Marsalis’ composition, Big Train, “The Caboose,” which showed Marsalis and company’s infectious sense of fun on the bandstand to full effect. Even though, as the program notes say, “Brooks Brothers is the official clothier of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra,” when the music is swinging this hard, all those sharp-dressed men look like happy little kids.

There isn’t a weak link in the band, but standouts this particular evening included young trombonist Vincent R. Gardner, the always-elegant Joe Temperley on baritone sax, and the absolutely rock-solid rhythm section of Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass, and Ali Jackson on drums.

Photo by Tracey Nolan.

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