Swingingest. That is Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in a word. Britt Music Festival was graced by the presence of these 15 virtuosi jazz performers (what the late Michael Brecker would call a quindectet). They worked through an expansive repertoire spanning decades of jazz, each piece excitingly different than the piece before.
The group opened with a groovy Horace Silver composition, “Cape Verdean Blues” kicked off with an entertaining trading of flautistic licks between Ted Nash and Sherman Irby. They followed this with a recognizable jazz standard by Fletcher Henderson, “Blue Skies.” After getting the spirit with an divine Oliver Nelson tune featuring an sik Sean Smith solo, the group played a sweet Ellington tune, “Lady of the Lavender Mist.”
Wynton Marsalis demonstrated true masterliness, sitting at the back row of the orchestra, laying back on most of the tunes. The opening tune featured a solo by the New Orleans native, but he didn’t solo again until the fifth tune, “Inner Urge,” a Joe Henderson composition. After a Benny Carter piece, “Doozie,” the orchestra took a break while I drank a bit more mead and cogitated on the power of jazz at its finest and let my spirit dance with the residual energy of the first set.
The band burst right back to full power with “Appointment in Ghana,” a Jackie McLean composition. This tune featured the most exciting Marsalis solo of the night. Swingingest. Also breaking loose on this tune was Dan Nimmer. This is the most exciting young pianist I’ve heard since Ethan Iverson. I was sitting on a blanket on the lawn right in front of the stage directly behind Nimmer. The crazy thing is that I rarely saw his hands. And he has a small frame. He was wowing me with improvisations in just a couple of octaves! One could hear many influences in his playing; the most salient for me was Cecil Taylor. Anyone who thinks jazz is dead or dying will repent in dust and ashes if they listen to his fingerwork.
And then something unbelievable happened. The group did a couple of modernistic Ted Nash compositions which he wrote for a Museum of Modern Art exhibition for Henri Matisse and Jackson Pollock. I was flabbergasted especially during the second piece: Wynton Marsalis playing free! The look on his face was priceless, as if in disbelief that he was playing this crazy beautiful free jazz. Suddenly, I saw Dan Nimmer’s hands. To the left and to the right. The band was all over the place in composed chaos (or perhaps it is better described with the oxymoron kosmos chaos).
Heart still racing from what I just heard, the 15 played a work inspired by the events of Congo Square in New Orleans, “Bamboola” (strangely enough a relatively slow piece) featuring the baritone sax of the elder of the group, Joe Temperley. (Not sure I’ve ever seen someone finesse a hugeous instrument like that before.)
They finished with a hot tune by the great diminutive Chick Webb, “Harlem Congo.” Appropriately, this was drummer Ali Jackson’s time to shine, emulating well the sheer power and speed of composer himself.
Swingingest. In a word. But if I may add a couple more: Quantity. Quality.