First Night: Duke's swing hits town

Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra Barbican Centre London

THE ACE trumpeter Wynton Marsalis brought centenary birthday boy Duke Ellington to town with the Lincoln Centre 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 the 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's "Funeral March" that ends the piece.

"Rockin' in Rhythm" was the next to arrive with Seneca Black blowing the main trumpet 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" - 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 Cutie" 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 particularly 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 "Tattoo Bride'.

After the interval, Marsalis cued the title number from "Such Sweet Thunder" - and I doubt that even Ellington himself could have made a better job of it.

Rob Cowan

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