Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jazz at Lincoln Center: They Came To Swing (1994)

This seems to have been a companion piece to The Fire Of The Fundamentals. That one sampled what happened at Lincoln Center; this one samples what happened when LCJO went on tour. This is the only one of their discs I bought in real time, btw; I got it not long after seeing the show I mention here.

Like the last one, and like an LCJO concert, it's split between full orchestra numbers and spots by smaller combinations of orchestra members.

Standout numbers:

"Light Blue." A great big-band arrangement of this Thelonious Monk tune. They preserve Monk's lurching rhythms, but add some lush horn harmonies. Then the solos start. First we get a brown-paper-bag trombone solo, and this is followed by a plunger-muted trumpet solo courtesy of Mr. Marsalis himself. What this means is that the New York hipster-jazz tune is effectively revealed to have all the potential for river-soaked New Orleans ooze within it. It's things like this that make the LCJO worth listening to.

"Jelly, Jelly." An exquisite rendering of the Billy Eckstine number. Somehow it manages to be both deep, knockabout bruise-blue and elegant at the same time. It's vocalist Milt Grayson's showcase, and he's a real marvel on these early LCJO records. He's got recital-hall diction and cello resonances in his voice, but those factors just make it all the more powerful, because unexpected, when he digs deep for a teeth-gritting blues like this. LCJO is black-tie jazz, anachronistic to be sure, but that invalidates the age, not the music.

"Things To Come." A pretty magnificent whack at Dizzy Gillespie's revolutionary number. Doesn't have quite the raw power of Dizzy's 1946 version, but still, Jon Faddis turns in a bumblebee trumpet solo that would do Diz proud. And that disintegrating ending. Nice.

Incidentally, this article pretty much sums up my take on LCJO, and why I think they're worth listening to. At one point their status as an argument couldn't help but overshadow their potential as a listening experience, but those days are over. Now it's hard to see them as anything but a net plus for jazz (edit: well, this guy disagrees). You may not agree with the idea that most of what happened between 1965 and 1985 was a wrong turn (I don't), but chances are your appreciation of any jazz, fusion included, will only be enhanced by a greater familiarity with Jelly Roll and Duke. And that's all Wynton's really saying in the end, isn't it?

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