The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season. Thursday night at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan the orchestra offered the audience a helping of the modern swing the orchestra is known for. Of course, it wouldn't have been a true JLCO show without some of Duke Ellington’s work. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the JLCO’s leader, began the hour plus set with two of Ellington’s jumpers “Bragging in Brass” and “Red Garter”. Both numbers set the level the orchestra performed on the entire set. Marsalis likes the orchestra to swing above sea-level.
From Ellington’s work the orchestra moved smoothly into two Gerry Mulligan tunes a waltz “Over the Hill and Out of the Woods” and a blues “Yes Sir That’s My Baby”. The latter arranged by alto saxophonist Sherman Irby and sang by trombone player Vincent R. Gardner. Next the orchestra jumped headfirst into Irby’s “Insatiable Hunger”. Midway through that tune the orchestra had the stage hotter than hell in August.
From Irby’s work the orchestra slid into John Lewis’ “Two Bass Hit”. On saxophone player Ted Nash’s arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Windows,” drummer Ali Jackson was naughty slapping the tambourine like it was a porn star’s ass. It was an odd moment but the audience ate it up nonetheless. Marsalis slowed down things on another Gerry Mulligan song “Lonesome Boulevard,” featuring some state-of-the-art blowing by baritone saxophone player Paul Nedzela.
In the field of jazz orchestras, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra still ranks first. Thursday night the orchestra was polished as antique silverware, which wasn’t surprising. Marsalis runs a tight ship and the music the JLCO performs swings no matter what. Marsalis ended the set with trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s “Stage West”. Had the orchestra played it on westbound US I-94 the Michigan State Troopers would’ve pulled over the orchestra and issued them a speeding ticket.
Marsalis had a handful of choice solos but none showed off his skills more than on “Stage West”. Marsalis trumpet has horsepower and he’s still one of the best jazz trumpet players around. The audience showed its love for the hour plus set with a long ovation and begging for an encore, which the orchestra gave them.
The audience was so worked up had the orchestra decided against an encore the audience would’ve turned Hill Auditorium upside down and shaken it until every member of the orchestra had fallen back on stage. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.