Thursday, January 21, 2016

UNDERWHELMING PERFORMANCE OF POP CLASSICS BY JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA AT ANNUAL UMS CONCERT

Wynton Marsalis
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra put on its annual jazz concert for the University Musical Society Wednesday evening at Hill Auditorium. Instead of performing the music of iconic jazz musicians and composers such as Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie, the JLCO played pop oldies-but-goodies from the 60's, 70's, and 80's. 

The two-hour concert was billed as Jazz in the Key of Life, and trombonist Vincent Gardner was the concert’s music director. Gardner picked the nine pop songs the orchestra played, and various members of the orchestra wrote arrangements.

Presenting pop music was a stretch for the JLCO whose comfort zone is largely swing, bop, and post-bop. It was thoughtful for the orchestra to offer its Michigan fan base something different.

Suffice it to say, pop isn’t what the JLCO does best. Gardner prefaced each song by giving the audience bits of its origins. The trombonist never said why the JLCO decided to explore pop music.

The orchestra opened with the Crusaders “Street Life,” followed by a number from the rock group Creams’ songbook. Then the orchestra tackled Stevie Wonders classic “All in Love is Fair”.

The orchestra’s take on those songs was underwhelming. The JLCO is one of the top jazz orchestras of all time, and this annual concert has always been a treat for jazz fans wanting to experience two-hours of red-blooded American swing.

There’re some cool solos by bassist Carlos Henriquez and drummer Ali Jackson on Donny Hathaway’s “Sugar Lee”. The orchestra’s leader, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, nearly blew the musicians in the trombone section out their chairs soloing on Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby”.

The orchestra seemed most comfortable with the Jackson’s “Blame it on the Boogie,” which Gardner arranged and played tuba on, and the audience was most pleased with. I’ve attended JLCO’s annual UMS concert for a decade. The Jazz in the Key of Life concert was the first time the orchestra seemed out of their league.  
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