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Orchestra wows audiences in new CPA music hall

Maria Smith | Thursday, December 2, 2004

Jazz isn’t always the genre that gets the most attention among college kids. Rock, rap and pop are newer, more accessible and more likely to have catchy lyrics.But from its roots in ragtime until today, jazz has shown American music at its best. And the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis shows jazz at its best.Hopefully Saturday night’s performance, which gave students a chance to see one of the premier musical groups in the country in fine form, converted a few new fans. Marsalis and the LCJO played a mix of older classics and newer compositions with impeccable skill and style.Marsalis is undoubtedly the headliner of the LCJO’s tour. The Pulitzer Prize and multiple Emmy Award winning trumpet player is possibly the most recognizable name in modern jazz. Marsalis’ solos, spaced through the show, were impeccable. His narration gave the show the charm of a small club performance instead of the inauguration of a concert hall.For the LCJO, Marsalis serves more as the front man than as the star of the group; audiences that come to hear a jazz great end up hearing several. The most amazing thing about the group may be that while the music is sophisticated and technically difficult, the musicians make everything sound easy. Playing a fully orchestrated jazz number perfectly in sync without a conductor is not simple, but it’s even harder to make it seem like the most natural thing in the world. The first half of the show featured several numbers by members of the LCJO. The exception was the opening rendition of “Oscar T” by Thelonius Monk with a solo by Marsalis.Marsalis described “Evolution of the Groove,” an original piece by himself and drummer Herlin Riley, as a “drum concerto.” Riley more than showed his chops in a mind-boggling drum solo that moved between tempos and time signatures without a pause.”La espada de la noche,” showcased a collaboration between saxophone player Ted Nash and the LCJO, imitated the flamenco sound of a jazz orchestra from Barcelona. The piece was reminiscent of Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain.” A haunting duet between pianist Eric Lewis and bassist Carlos Henriquez moved beautifully into an up-tempo section with solos by Nash and trumpet player Marcus Printup.The group closed the first set with “Back to Basics” from “Blood on the Fields,” the CD which won Marsalis the Pulitzer Prize. Marsalis eerily used his trumpet to tell the story of a man who starts out laughing and ends up crying.Count Basie’s “Kansas City Suite,” the selection for the second set, gave the audience a chance to hear the group play a variety of styles. Memorable numbers from the nine songs in the suite included the mellow “Sunset Glow” with a solo by lead trombone player Ron Westray and the hopping conclusion “Rompin’ at the Reno.”Although all the musicians were excellent, the quintet that came out for the encore was one of the highlights. Lewis gave a masterful performance moving from a percussive one-hand piano backdrop for Marsalis’ solo to a commanding performance of his own.The inaugural concert in the Leighton Concert Hall also proved that there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. The 900-seat theater may be small, but no matter where you sit, every note comes through crystal clear.Neither the promoters of the hall nor the LCJO could have hoped for a better reception from the audience. Both sets and the encore were greeted with immediate standing ovations.The Leighton Concert Hall will host many excellent shows in the coming month, but Wynton Marsalis and the LCJO will be hard to top. The audience could not have asked for a better inaugural show.