The trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has been associated with a shadowy “jazz police” for so long that I almost expected him to be in uniform. Although he is certainly a sharp dresser, and is at the centre of wrangles about a jazz canon, use of amplification and inverse racism, it is surprising how rarely his music itself is mentioned.
Marsalis argues for a jazz based on technical excellence, emotional integrity and respect for tradition, and this is precisely what he delivers. He leaves his audience feeling part of something worthwhile, and uplifted.
He played almost the entire opening “What is This Thing Called Love” conjuring a dazzling stream of playful slurs, bent notes and fearsome double tempo runs, arriving on stage to cue the alto saxophonist Wessell Anderson’s precision, blues-laden solo. A deliciously slow “Stardust” followed – Marsalis smoky-toned and his solo lush with technical detail – and then a wickedly fast “Cherokee”, played over a New Orleans inflected beat. Again Marsalis went wandering, this time with plunger mute at the ready, pausing for a brief aside to support act saxophonist Alex Garnett.
Marsalis’s technical proficiency means he can’t help but dominate – he even topped a full symphony orchestra, gospel choir and big band on All Rise. But his band are not mere supporting players. The saxophonist Wessell Anderson also mixes innovation with tradition, but with less ebullience. The bassist and drummer Carlos Henriquez and Willie Jones provide a springy cushion for the lead instruments and shine when required – Jones’s brushwork was outstanding.
Stand-out was the pianist Dan Nimmer, who filled his solos with block chords and soulful flourishes. After an oblique reading of “Just Friends” – his bar-length notes just about made sense, and were all the better for it – a partially modernist combination of technical exercise, high-note abstraction and the blues yielded to a Latin finale, a sustained encore and two Ellingtonian blues. ★★★★☆
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