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Marsalis, and all that jazz

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis brought the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to Artpark on a warm and muggy summer Monday evening.

Almost all of the musicians wore matching outfits; their shoes, socks, suits, shirts, ties and suspenders were sharp in their similarity. The only exceptions on stage to this confluence of conformity were the garments of bassist Carlos Henriquez and drummer Ali Jackson; both of them had left their jackets backstage, appearing resplendent in exposed white shirts and dark suspenders.

It didn’t take very long however before a few of their comrades doffed coats in an attempt to be as cool physically as they were musically.

From the moment that Marsalis introduced the opening number, “The Creation” by Chris Crenshaw, a trombone player in the band, the energy and skill of the players was all one needed to focus on.

In this piece, Marcus Printup’s trumpet solo was outstanding; drummer Ali Jackson’s thunderous percussion work evoked the passage of time from chaos to creation, while Victor Goines’ flute playing rounded things off.

Henriquez wrote a wonderful Afro-Cuban piece called “Calle de Oro” that injected a bit of Latin spice into the set list. Dance rhythms prevailed, and Marsalis, who took the solo after baritone saxophonist Paul Nedzela delivered a stellar performance, hit a series of high notes that rang throughout the hall.

No wonder he said, after the piece ended: “Yeah. That’s a lot of fun to play.”

It was kind of that way all evening. “Blues in Hoss’ Flat,” a tune that Frank Foster wrote for the Basie band, had brilliant trumpet playing from Printup, some solid tenor riffing from Goines, a killer solo by Crenshaw and a “Basie-esque” piano foray from pianist Dan Nimmer.

Ellington, whose music forms the core of the orchestra’s library, got his due in a nifty performance of “Ready, Go,” the fourth movement from his “Toot Suite.”

Unlike most of the music played that night, where various soloists took their bars and got out of the way for another player to show off his chops, this tune belonged to one man, Walter Blanding. All of the other sax players would get their shots, but Blanding’s tenor solo just roared from beginning to end with hardly a moment left to breathe. At the end, the audience gave him a standing ovation. It was a heck of a way to go into the intermission.

After the break, the musicians ripped into a tightly constructed take on Kenny Dorham’s bop classic, “Stage West”; a clever arrangement by Sherman Irby of “Bah, Bah, Black Sheep,” which allowed the trombone section a chance to shine; and more.

Kudos to Artpark for bringing these guys to Western New York.