Wynton, the Assimilationist
Review by Jean Timmons
The performances of All Rise over the past week at Symphony Center were Marsalis' first complete performances of his work with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Commissioned and first performed on December 29, 1999, by the New York Philharmonic, with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, All Rise dares us to appreciate many types of music in one grand composition. Obviously, then, it is very ambitious. This music requires a mixed chorus, four vocal soloists, jazz orchestra, and an orchestra consisting of flutes and piccolos, oboes and an english horn, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets, trombones, a tuba, percussion, strings, and miscellany.
All Rise consists of twelve shortish compositions, a suite of diverse but connected pieces. Jazz, classical, Western folk, and contemporary music theater all hover around a core of blues. Marsalis writes that the work "is structured in the form of a twelve-bar blues . . . separated into three sections of four movements." In this musical ode to harmony, Marsalis weaves through his "four movements" a sometimes startling array of music types-New Orleans brass band, church service, Italian aria, and on; musical instruments-a washboard, english horn, E-flat clarinet; trumpets and trombones; strings, and on once more. There seemed to be musical homages at pivotal junctures-Copland, Coltrane, Ellington, and Parker (in the nice trumpet solo with strings in "Expressbrown Local"). Was that Songheim in "Go Slow (But Don't Stop)"? For all that, the work is quite coherent; and the movements from birth and self-discovery to maturity and joy are reflected smoothly throughout. But appealing to all taste?
Even though each piece suited its purpose in the narrative, "Save Us" had me fidgeting in the seat just a tad; and "Saturday Night Slow Drag" was too slow. Yet everything came together, without a major performing contribution by Marsalis, who was content to submerge his individuality in the orchestra. The final piece, "I Am," was tremendous in bringing together the themes and musicians. Marsalis, as he sat amongst the orchestra with his horn at the ready, was having fun, a smile of enjoyment or approval at the ready, too. Wynton-style. It was infectious. The feeling in the audience of enchantment was palpable. The deal was sealed at the very end when Marsalis lifted his horn to lead his jazz orchestra in "When the Saints Come Marching In." Suddenly conductor Steven Sloane rushed back on stage, lifted his baton, and led the Chicago Symphony in the Chicago Bears fight song.
Ah, hope! Ah, humanity.
Check out great Chicago jazz happenings at JazzChicago.net
Return to Reviews
Return to Menu