Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Wynton Marsalis exudes cool jazz



By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

OXFORD - When he burst on the scene more than two decades ago, Wynton Marsalis was a pedigreed young lion whose trumpet playing and proclamations about jazz incited a cottage industry of commentary.

Nowadays the 41-year-old New Orleans native is less of a jazzbo lightning rod than simply a steward of the pre-fusion traditions he loves.

So it should surprise no one that Marsalis took a total of two solos during the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's performance Sunday night before 1,555 at Millett Hall.

Marsalis, whose name on the tickets appeared bigger and bolder than that of the 15-piece LCJO, used his guiding hand more than his trumpet to make the show go. He was the star, with or without a horn raised to his lips.

He introduced selections in his pithy manner. He was often slouched in his chair with eyelids half closed, yet you could see him controlling the proceedings, winking approval to one soloist and with a hand gesture prompting another.

And you could hear him in the programming, especially in the second set, which was bookended by some Dixieland home cooking. The band opened the set with King Oliver's "Snake Rag," performing as an octet ("Everybody else got mad and went home," Marsalis joked). They again took to the stage as a small ensemble for the encore, Jelly Roll Morton's "Smokehouse Blues," featuring one of the bandleader's solos.

Three of the five songs in the first set were Thelonious Monk compositions, and each was equally gleeful and lyrical - "Four in One," with its fluttering brass riffs; "Bye-Ya," featuring solos by Victor Goines on clarinet and Carlos Henriquez on bass; and the proto-cool, multi-part "I Mean You."

In addition to the Monk and Morton stuff, the selections were safe, mainly keying in on the giants. Locked-in bass lines by Henriquez and pianist Richard Doron Johnson marked Charles Mingus' "The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady." And the Wayne Shorter-via-the Jazz Messengers tune "Free for All" provided an opportunity for the large ensemble to wail away as a whole.

E-mail cvarias@enquirer.com




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