Marsalis and Orchestra dazzle Spaulding crowd

by Lindsay Barnes | 9/27/02 5:00am

Wynton Marsalis is without a doubt the world's ambassador of jazz. After seeing last night's show with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, I believe jazz could have no better spokesperson. Marsalis' mastery of the trumpet was clear from the opening number, his composition "Back to Basics" from his Pulitzer Prize winning work, "Blood on the Fields."

As he emerged from the back of the band and walked out into the seating area of Spaulding, he bowled the crowd over with his ability to give the sounds from his trumpet an animal quality. During "Basics" alone, he made his instrument roar like a lion, laugh like a hyena and even cluck like a chicken as he ambled up and down the aisles.

This set the tone for a night of dazzling playing from Marsalis. During Thelonious Monk's "Four to One", he played a dizzying flurry of notes that made me wonder in amazement, "How does he do that?" Conversely, he proved to be as soulful on "St. James Infirmary" as he was fast on "Four to One." Accompanied only by sax player Wess "Warmdaddy" Anderson who, taking a turn on piano, offered up a passionate version of the old blues traditional, exploring his instrument's range, punctuating the piece with human-like moans, squeals and sighs.

Marsalis also proved to have a good rapport with the audience. He let his sense of humor show through every now and then -- knowing full well he was at an Ivy League college, he introduced his composition "Continuous" as, "Something men dream about, all due respect to post-modernismMen and women are differentor did they get rid of that too?"

The teacher in him also shone. As Marsalis introduced Hank Mobely's "Hank's Symphony," he paid tribute to his mentor Art Blakey, for whose group the piece had originally been written. Marsalis played in Blakey's Jazz Messengers when he was only 17, calling the jazz great "one of the most original personalities ever."

But to call this concert a Wynton Marsalis concert would be a crime. In addition to showing off his own great chops, he let the other members of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra shine as well. During Chico O'Farrill's "Havana Blues," the trombone section played an intricately woven part so well that the three players sound ed like one.

Saxophonist Ted Nash played a blistering solo on "Four to One" and a delightfully sweet flute solo on Milton Nascumento's "Ponto de Areja." In "Song of the Underground Railroad," fellow saxophonist Walter Blanding Jr. took on the daunting task of emulating the song's composer John Coltrane and did so with uncanny accuracy. For a second I closed my eyes and it really sounded like the Trane onstage. Trombonist Ron Westray took an equally impressive solo in the same piece.

Even Dartmouth's very own Kabir Sehgal '05 took a bass solo when he was invited onstage for the encore blues jam. Sehgal had won the Outstanding Bass Soloist award in the Lincoln Center's "Essentially Ellington" contest in 2000, and tonight he showed everyone why. He seemed to impress his elders as they nodded approvingly from out in the audience.

But if there was an individual member of the LCJO that may have stole the show, it was drummer Herlin Riley. On Marsalis' "Dreamin on a Washboard" he opened the number with an entrancing drum solo, initially using no sticks at all. He just banged his hand on a tambourine and stomped his feet on the drum and hi-hat pedals. Then, the sticks seemed to magically appear out of nowhere as he built the solo up to a frenzy. Then to close the set, Riley pulled out all the stops on "Hank's Symphony." The piece sounded like a summer storm and Riley provided the thunder. The band let him take several short solos during the song, and he left the audience in awe as he furiously pounded on the skins.

In all, this was a great show. Marsalis not only proved to be a great soloist, but also a great bandleader -- knowing when to step forward and when to let the other musicians take the lead. The result was that the audience got a hearty helping of jazz from all the top-notch players in this world class band.