Symphony Center Presents
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
By Dan Zeff
Chicago – The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra opened the 2017-2018 Symphony Center Presents jazz series with a multi-concert visit led by music director-Wynton Marsalis. The JALC opened Friday night with a salute to New Orleans composer-bandleader-pianist Jelly Roll Morton. The orchestra then performed a Saturday morning concert for children titled “Who Is Count Basie?” and concluded Saturday night with a special concert featuring guest pianist Jon Batiste.
I saw the final concert, which flowed a little outside the normal JALC setup. The orchestra normally doesn’t include a guest star but Batiste was on stage more than half of the intermissionless 100-minute set, chatting with the audience and playing piano. Batiste, the bandleader with the “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” TV show, absorbed solo time normally expended on Marsalis and his sidemen. The leader took only three solos and the solo time of the section players was likewise diminished. But Batiste seemed to gain the audience’s approval with his percussive, sometimes florid, style and his anecdotal conversation.
The program was divided between compositions by Duke Ellington and Modern Jazz Quartet leader John Lewis. Batiste informally took over as master of ceremonies during his extended stint, with Marsalis satisfied to sit through the guest appearance in the orchestra’s back row with his trumpet colleagues. If the crowd got rather more Batiste and rather less Marsalis and his orchestra than they anticipated, they still appeared to leave Orchestra Hall satisfied. With this much musical talent on the Orchestra Hall stage, it could scarcely turn out otherwise.
Batiste started off the John Lewis commemoration with a rousing interpretation of Lewis’s playful “Animal Dance.” Later he deconstructed Lewis’s delicate and emotional “Django” with some fiery two-handled embellishments. He also led a sextet in an adaptation adaptation of “Delaunay’s Dilemma” featuring Marcus Printup on trumpet, Elliot Mason on trombone, and Ted Nash on tenor saxophone.
Along the way we heard a sizzling clarinet solo by Victor Goines that had the crowd shouting in approval. We also enjoyed more soloing by bass player Carlos Enriquez than usual. In addition to his solid work in the rhythm section, Enriquez proved himself a musical and technically proficient soloist. The rhythm section was further buttressed by pianist Dan Nimmer, who deserves his own set some time in the jazz series. Herlin Riley has been replaced in the drummer chair by Marion Felder, who played in a understated style that gave the orchestra perfect rhythm support.
The orchestra personnel remains remarkably stable, with Felder the only new face. So we continue to take pleasure in freed players Paul Nedzela, Walter Blandings, and Sherman Irby, Kenny Rampton and Greg Gisbert on trumpet, and Vincent Gardner and Chris Crenshaw on trombone. Irby had only one solo, a lush rendering of an Ellington blues in the group’s encore that was a golden moment in the concert. All 15 musicians meld together into a unit equally home in New Orleans, swing, and bebop styles. Batiste perhaps soaked up more of the concert’s oxygen than was necessary, but he did join Nimmer in a stomping duet as part of the performance of Lewis’s famous bop standard “Two Bass Hit.”
The 2017-2018 jazz series is a testament to the programming skills of Symphony Center Presents director Jim Fahey. As the availability of classic jazz stars has declined through the years, Fahey has been masterful in broadening the program’s jazz palette with less familiar but still rewarding artists. He has been notably inventive in assembling musicians and singers from outside the United States that validate jazz as a true world music, while still booking certified American A List singers and instrumentalists.
Here is the lineup for the remaining nine concerts in the series. All concerts start at 8 p.m.
October 27—A night of traditional Deep South jazz, featuring singer Irma Thomas, the “Soul Queen of New Orleans,” plus the gospel-singing Blind Boys of Alabama and the Preservation Hall Legacy Quintet.
November 17—Small group jazz with Trio Beyond (drummer Jack DeJohnette, guitarist John Scofield, and pianist Larry Goldings), and the Ravi Coltrane quartet.
January 26—A Thelonious Monk evening, starting with the Melissa Aldana trio. Aldana is a saxophone player from Chile who won the Thelonious Monk Competition. The second half of the concert presents John Beasley’s Monk’estra, a big band dedicated to Monk’s music. Guest stars will be harmonica virtuoso Gregoire Maret and trumpeter and vocalist Dontae Winslow.
February 9—Two big bands, one led by Amir Elsaffaro and the other led by Mike Reed.
February 23—A night for fans of high caloric Latin piano playing, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and the legendary Chucho Valdes.
March 9–A double bill opening with singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and then the great pianist Bill Charlap and his trio playing the music of Leonard Bernstein.
May 1—An evening of world jazz from the multi-cultural combo Crosscurrents starring Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain, the outstanding American bass player Dave Holland, and the American saxophonist Chris Potter.
May 18—Mexico City-born drummer Antonio Sanchez will lead a quartet starring saxophonist Seamus Blake and vocalist Thana Alexa, followed by trumpeter Terence Blanchard leading his combo The Collective.
June 1—Mainstream night, first presenting singer Dee Dee Bridgewater singing songs of her hometown of Memphis and concluding with The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra, directed by Scott Barnhart.
Tickets can be purchased for the entire series, in a five-concert package, or as single admissions. Call 312 294 3000, visit cso.org/subscribe, or order by mail at Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Subscription Services, 220 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60604.
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