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The freedom of jazz

'All Rise', by Wynton Marsalis,
reviewed by MALCOLM MILLER


The idea of a synthesis of Classical music and Jazz is nearly as old as Jazz itself -- from Gershwin and Stravinsky through Bernstein, Brubeck or Jacques Loussier. But Wynton Marsalis, the outstanding New York-based trumpeter and bandleader, educator and composer from New Orleans, has a special approach. For the perennial problem of how to allow the improvisational freedom of jazz within a classical frame is resolved by a coolly crafted combination of jazz band -- his own Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra -- with a symphony orchestra and Gospel choir in a true spirit of partnership, with an eclectic mix of different styles and genres centred on the Blues. Originally commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in 1999 and recorded by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2002, the work was performed here by the LCJO with the London Philharmonic and the London Adventist Chorale under the command of Kurt Masur, at a capacity filled Albert Hall. The concert was given in aid of New Orleans Relief, the third leg in a five-concert UK première tour (following performances in Birmingham and Cardiff).

The piece, according to the composer 'celebrates togetherness and ascendence in the context of the blues' and twelve movements (based on the idea of a 12-bar blues) show how the freedom of jazz can be combined with the traditions of concert music, sectioned into three contrasting groups in a traditional fast-slow-fast arrangement. The final choral movement entitled 'All Rise' sums up the theme of the entire piece which addresses the 'global community' through the blues which Marsalis sees as 'containing elements of folk music from all over the world and expressing the philosophy of acceptance of life' -- perhaps questionably, since one might want to consider the blues as an expression of a state of affairs inviting one to rise up against injustice and oppression. Yet the simple three-part form allowed one to focus on the really innovative aspect of the work, the inspired mixture of popular idioms, eastern scales and classical elements, embodying the idea of 'togetherness', a combination of disparate styles and peoples, not, as Marsalis says 'in a world-music type of melange' but keeping them distinct, and yet emphasising, through a myriad variations of blues, traces of their commonality.

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Copyright © 4 October 2005 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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