The time of great bands with a style of its own and charismatic leaders is over: Benny Goodman, Count Basie or Duke Ellington are history. The maintenance of groups that number 15 to 18 members is uneconomical under current conditions. So jazzmen now lead trios or quartets.
But someone has to care for jazz history, and Wynton Marsalis, an admirable trumpet player both in jazz and classical music, took on that task. Himself a product of the Juilliard School, a true symbol of excellence, he founded the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra back in 1988. It remains to this day a high-class repertoire band ranging from swing to the last decade. The hot New Orleans style isn´t included, for it needs less and sometimes different instruments.
To nitpick, I dislike the appellation "orchestra": it´s much more jazzy and true to call it a big band. Marsalis first came to BA in 1994; and then he brought his orchestra (JLCO) in 1998, 2000 and 2005. This is the first time, however, that the venue is the Colón, and I accept it because they play acoustically, without amplification. They started the subscription series invented by the former Colón Director, Pedro Pablo García Caffi, with the appellation "Fifth Anniversary Cycle", in reference to the theatre´s reopening in May 2010.
I believe GC did a complete distortion of the Colón´s vocation, for the seven-concert series includes just two classical ones and five are given over to different forms of popular music. However, I do make an exception for the JLCO, even if the audience had little to do with the habitual one at the Colón . Fifteen members came in this tour: four trumpet players including Marsalis; three trombonists; five saxophonists; one pianist; one bassist; one drummer. Two more didn´t come: a trumpeter and a saxophonist. In just one number two trombonists took turns singing. Of course the saxophonists played the whole family of those instruments: soprano, tenor and baritone; but they also added in some pieces two flutes and three different types of clarinet.
The repertoire was announced (with a microphone) by Marsalis, and I object this procedure, although I know it´s normal among jazzmen. The JLCO is a stable outfit and even if there´s some room for improvisation in the choruses (solos) they all have scores for the riffs, introductions and postludes. Marsalis should send the day´s programme to the printers, which would allow no mistakes from the audience or us poor critics in the precise identification of what we heard. So my following description has some holes. (By the way, I was very happy that the Colón has reverted to normalcy in the design of their hand programmes: both the expensive 50-Peso and the flimsy one that went with the tip have disappeared, we now have the standard middle-sized programme of long tradition).
Dressed in Brooks Brothers elegant light suits and ties, the members stayed put during the whole First Part.
Marsalis started with a work of his own: two fragments (slow-fast) of his Jazz Mass; although I find no relationship to religion in the music, it´s certainly good mainstream jazz, with some unbelievably high trumpet flights from the author (he is a prolific composer); I didn´t enjoy the rather weak trombone solo. Then, a typical Dizzy Gillespie fusion number, clearly Caribbean in its ambience, featuring flute, muted trumpet and brilliant uptempo tenor sax. Afterwards, the lovely "Moody´s mood for love", with a very relaxed sax chorus and two vocals, the first pleasant, the other sounding like an out-of-tune countertenor.
Followed a number by their talented bass player, Carlos Henríquez, with guajira and mambo connotations, wah-wah trumpets and nice melodic touches. An unannounced fast piece ended the music before the interval; it was quirky, cool, had a fine Marsalis chorus and a small drums one, quite soft!
The Second Part brought the strange, fascinating music of Thelonious Monk. Then, one of the older styles, the Kansas City Swing; written in 1932, I believe I understood the title as "The blue room". Followed a tribute to Wynton´s brother, Branford Marsalis, a very lyrical piece of his with soprano sax and two flutes. Then, a curious work, "Presidential speech" (based on one of Nehru´s main proclamations, but without vocals!), written and played by the refined clarinetist Ted Nash.
And then, what for me was the highest point: the marvelous 1930 Ellington "Mood indigo", featuring a long Marsalis solo and a trio made up of clarinet soprano, muted trumpet and muted trombone. The session ended with an uptempo creation by the great pianist Oscar Peterson, "March past" (from a suite) where both the pianist and the drummer showed their capacity.
Encores: the first, unannounced, played just by Marsalis with the rhythm section (piano, drums, bass), showing off his extraordinary highest register. And finally, a balmy, not very jazzy, arrangement of that old Latino song, "Flores negras".
It was an interesting cross section of styles. I especially enjoyed the trumpet players, the sax baritone of Paul Nedzela and the first-rate bassist. I do find the trombone section a bit below the high level of the rest, but as a whole the JLCO is certainly a responsive group led by a very eclectic Marsalis. He doesn´t aim to give a specific style, and he´s right: their recitals are partial histories of jazz, the strongest symbol of American music.
For Buenos Aires Herald