Jazz: Duke of the 20th century
Thursday 01 July 1999
ON TUESDAY night at the Barbican ace trumpeter Wynton Marsalis brought centenary birthday boy Duke Ellington to town with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, swinging a sequence of standards with gusto and style, though no one with an ear for old records would pretend that it was quite "the real thing". But then Marsalis wouldn't pretend that it was. He's taking the band around the world, spreading the Ellington gospel in his own style, though to judge from last night's performance, most of the ideas are Ellington's own.
The concert didn't so much start as waft into the hall, with piano, bass and drums quietly creeping beneath the audience chatter before Marsalis appeared with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon for the "Black and Tan Fantasy". The wailings and wha-whas were instantly recognisable and so was the growled reference to Chopin that ends the piece. "Rockin' in Rhythm" was the next to arrive with trumpeter Seneca Black blowing the main solo. Marsalis took a back seat, shared a joke with his men, and the pent-up atmosphere soon relaxed. It was good to hear "Lady Mac", from the Duke's Shakespeare suite, Such Sweet Thunder. A pungent tonal blend suggested, as Marsalis himself confessed, that "deep down, he always knew that she had a little ragtime in her soul".
"Concerto for Cootie" placed a boyish, bespectacled Ryan Kisor centre stage, toying with doleful repetitions before bursting in with the big central tune. The Duke loved trains and "Track 360" described trains that pass in the night with reeling clarinets, pumping trombones, and drummer Herlin Riley achieving a perfect diminuendo as the trains thundered into the waiting silence. Joe Temperley's baritone sax was a husky, lyrical "Sophisticated Lady", someone that the audience was happy to meet. Riley returned in full force for the fourth dance from the Liberian Suite with a repertoire of effects that ranged from clattering sticks to a full artillery, and clarinettist Victor Goines helped colour the mellow - and extended - tale of Ellington's "The Tattooed Bride".
After the interval, we paid a brief visit to the "Sidewalks of New York" before returning to the Liberian Suite for dance number five and another ochre-coloured solo from Temperley with Riley providing the exotic percussive backdrop. A Broadway street scene came next, replete with blasting horns, and when Marsalis cued the title number from Such Sweet Thunder, I doubt that even Ellington himself could have made a better job of it. Posterity may well judge Ellington's many Suites as his most enduring contribution to concert repertory and it was great to hear the evocative "Isfahan" from the relatively late Far East Suite.
Marsalis is a great fan of late Ellington but "Old Man Blues" is a child of the Twenties and the band's up-tempo performance had a real Cotton Club ring to it. But if any Duke title earned the status of a signature tune it was "Take the A-Train", which drew a volley of audience approval.
A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Germanwings Q&A: Why would the cockpit door have been locked and would there have been no way to get in?
- 2 Andreas Lubitz: Who is Germanwings co-pilot who 'locked out captain and crashed flight 9525'?
- 3 JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
- 4 Germanwings crash: Descent may have been 'deliberate, suicidal choice' by pilot, claims experts
- 5 Woman held in psychiatric ward after (correctly) saying Obama follows her on Twitter
Jeremy Clarkson to host BBC's Have I Got News For You despite Top Gear exit
Jeremy Clarkson says it 'isn't hard' to create another Top Gear
Mark Gatiss on playing 'prince of darkness' Peter Mandelson in Channel 4's Coalition
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Zayn Malik quits 1D: One Direction fans compare Perrie Edwards to Yoko Ono
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Council tenant wins right not to be sent to Milton Keynes