The last time I heard a sound that golden was when the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was in town. On Thursday night there was the same rarefied atmosphere as the sound of the iconic Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestrablazed through the Perth Concert Hall. Wynton Marsalis’ big band was part way through an arrangement of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue when the tender melody exploded into a series of thrilling brass and saxophone chords.
Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo also took my breath away but for different reasons – its lethargic beauty was built from a conversation between clarinet, muted trumpet, trombone and rhythm section that was a model in impeccable balance, gentlemanly good taste and gobsmacking technique. I say gentlemanly because the line up was all male: five horn players who between them played nineteen different wind instruments, three trombones and four trumpets including Marsalis. The band leader is renowned for championing traditional jazz (a big deal in the 70’s when the jazz fraternity headed almost exclusively into experimental territory) which perhaps explains – but doesn’t excuse – the notable absence of women.
After interval the JLCO were embedded in the WA Symphony Orchestra for Marsalis’ Swing Symphony, a work tracing the evolution of the swing rhythm. The opening tune Maple Leaf Rag was introduced by no less than eight clarinets (five jazz clarinets plus three from the orchestral wind section) anchored by the laid back syncopation of drummer Ali Jackson. The versatile WASO swung hard alongside their jazz colleagues through a Charleston, a percussion-driven tango, Kansas City Swing and Sing Sing Sing.
Particularly memorable was a sultry saxophone solo shared with the entire cello section, the fast patter of Wynton Marsalis’ bebop solo, a mambo groove with the violas doubling the drums and the orchestral wind players conveying the twilight stillness of Ornette Coleman’s Sadness. The symphony rushed by in an intense 60 minutes; a rapid succession of jazz standards that left little space for digestion. But Marsalis’ creative integration of the two bands, use of recurring motives and sprinkling of stunning solos created a work that was a weighty and fascinating orchestral journey through jazz.
This review copyright The West Australian 2016.