Sunday, March 5, 2017


Saturday evening at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI the Jazz at Lincoln Center put on its twentieth-anniversary performance. Each year the JLC Orchestra makes it a plus to offer a 90 minute presentation that’s decidedly different than the previous year. Two years back, for example, the JLC Orchestra performed works from John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, and Charles Mingus. Then the following year the orchestra deviated from its swing era and post-bop comfort zone, performing music from pop giants such as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and a host of other pop greats. This time out, the orchestra celebrated 100 years of jazz music by presenting all original works from members of the orchestra. Each composition was influenced by a seminal era in jazz. The orchestra’s captain trumpeter Wynton Marsalis kicked down the barn door with an original titled “The Abyssinian Mass.”  For those in attendance that might have forgotten what an extraordinary jazz trumpeter Marsalis is, his solo I’m certain jogged their memories. Marsalis blew with such force those close enough to the stage could see spit dripping from the bell of his trumpet. Heck, it appeared as if Marsalis’ trumpet was sweating because of the workout he was putting it through. At the conclusion of the composition surely the audience was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt this was going to be a special night of music. Marsalis next called out the orchestra’s bassist Carlos Henriquez. The bassist led the orchestra up and down a soul-stirring original titled “Brooklyn Pyramid.” Before the orchestra sailed on Marsalis offered some heartfelt words for the University Music Society’s President Ken Fischer. Fischer will be retiring in June. Marsalis also offered kind remarks for jazz radio personality and WEMU’s music director Linda Yohn. She’s also retiring this year after 30 years of service to Michigan’s jazz community. After those acknowledgements, the JLC Orchestra got back to business. There was wonderful music from trumpeter Marcus Printup, saxophonist Ted Nash, and a terse drum solo titled “The Drums Also Waltzes” by Detroiter Ali Jackson that would have made the late jazz drummer Max Roach blush. The showstopper for me was Victor Goines original “Untamed Elegance.” Goines dedicated the number to the recently departed jazz promoter Detroiter Wesley “Skip” Norris. Goines played this number so beautifully the devil would have broken down. The JLC Orchestra performed many wonderful originals, but I still believe the orchestra is at its best playing music from Duke Ellington and the Count Basie songbooks and other swing era mavericks. It’s a welcomed change, however, when the JLC Orchestra deviates from its comfort zone.