The Jazz.com Blog
May 02, 2008 · 2 comments
Tim Wilkins contributes this review of last Friday’s concert featuring pianist Chano Dominguez and the Flamenco Jazz Ensemble in tandem with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. T.G.
"We're trying to start a movement out here - with international music and the language of jazz," said Wynton Marsalis to the crowd who turned out to hear his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JALCO) perform with pianist Chano Dominguez and the Flamenco Jazz Ensemble last Friday.
Wynton Marsalis and Chano Dominguez
The concert was a showcase of works inspired by Marsalis's many visits to Spain over two decades, and featured compositions Dominguez wrote for Lincoln Center, as well as ones Marsalis composed for Spain's Vitória jazz festival. "Sometimes we do these collaborative shows with musicians from other cultures, and it's difficult for us, because we don't really understand their music!" a jovial Marsalis said at the start of the show. "But we work it out, you know?"
Marsalis has indeed worked it out, and is still working it out, with Dominguez -- the evening's music freely and successfully mixed swing and blues with Spanish alegrías, soleas and bulerías. All of this was punctuated by the unexpected rhythms from the feet of of tap and flamenco dancers.
All of this may come as some surprise to those who know Marsalis and his ensemble for their work as advocates of the repertoire of classic American jazz composers, such as Duke Ellington. Could it be that Jazz at Lincoln Center is going global?
"It's difficult to explain the type of true love and admiration we have for one another," Marsalis said of his orchestra's admiration for the visiting musicians. This love was apparent in his ensemble's sensitive adaptations of traditional Spanish forms.
Flamenco dancer Tomasito
The evening's first collaboration, "De Cadi a New Orleans," was written by Dominguez for JALCO and premiered at Lincoln Center in 2003. "The first time we played it, we messed it up - we did!" Marsalis told the crowd. "But this gentleman was very gracious about us messing up his music." What followed over the next few years was a kind of telephone courtship between the two musicians, with Marsalis seeking advice about how to interpret Spanish music. This culminated in his inviting Chano and his ensemble, which includes flamenco percussionists and dancers, to reintroduce the piece in New York.
"Now we're doing much, much more justice to this music," Marsalis said. In fact, they did this and more. They demonstrated how deeply they are involved in an ongoing conversation between the two cultures, expanding musical definitions on both sides.
The concert began aptly with a composition by a master drummer and founding member of JALCO, Herlin Riley. This multi-movement piece, the Evolution of the Groove, would have made Max Roach smile, as it moved smoothly from swing into 3/4 time, into 6/8, then back into swing, before a gospel-tinged movement in 7/4, during which Herlin got the trombone section into the rhythm act, slapping their hat mutes on the bandstand, which created a dramatic effect to thunderous applause.
Herlin Riley with the JALC Orchestra
Riley was joined onstage during the last movement by tap dancers Jared Grimes and DeWitt Fleming, who amazed the crowd with agility as well as musicality. Of the two, Fleming is the more acrobatic, and Grimes more melodic, at one point mesmerizing the audience with a solo performed only with the heel and toe of one foot.
This was followed by “De Cadi a New Orleans,” in which Dominguez, like Riley, shifted from swing into passages inspired by the 12/8 rhythmic cycles of Andalusian flamenco, all linked together by masterful piano interludes. Chano was joined on stage by dancer Tomas “Tomasito” Moreno and percussionist Israel “El Piranha” Suarez. The piece closed with a haunting vocal by singer Blas Cordoba, who turned “Duerme Lucero” from flamenco into a blues and back again.
Tap dancers Jared Grimes and DeWitt Fleming
The concert’s second half was a suite of pieces Marsalis wrote for the Vitoria jazz festival, where his orchestra has been invited to play by festival founder Inaki Anua nine times since 1987. These pieces chart how Marsalis’s grasp of Spanish music has grown over time. The first, “Inaki’s Decision,” brought the band squarely back into swing, with Ellington-inspired ensemble passages. Bassist Carlos Henriquez stepped forward to conduct the orchestra for the second piece, a slow blues, “Suave en la Noche,” to which Marsalis added Spanish-inspired (or perhaps Gil Evans-inspired) trumpet flourishes.
Next was “Jason and Jaysonie,” an homage to Marsalis’s nephew and Anua’s daughter, a jump swing number that brought the tap dancers back on stage, and included one of the evening’s musical highlights. Chano traded 24-bar riffs at the keyboard with Dan Nimmer, JALCO’s phenomenally gifted 25-year-old pianist, to great applause.
Other standout soloists during the evening were JALCO saxophonists Sherman Irby on lead alto and Walter Blanding on tenor, Joe Temperley on soprano and Ryan Kisor and Marcus Printup on trumpet.
The evening’s closing number, and musical high point, was “Solea,” composed by Marsalis, but with rhythms provided by Dominguez, again by telephone. Marsalis originally called the piece “Bulerias,” which he mistakenly thought was the Spanish rhythm used in the piece. However, in one of his late-night calls, Dominguez set him straight. "He gave me the rhythm, then when I wrote it, he called to say, ‘You wrote it wrong,’" Marsalis recounted. “So he redid the rhythm section part for me, and he rewrote it."
The result of this collaboration was renamed “Solea,” to more accurately describe the rhythm used in the piece. This brought all of the dancers and musicians back on stage for an ensemble finale, that got the audience out of their seats. “It's a lifelong process of working and trying to figure out how to relate to one another's musics, without being disrespectful or clichéd,” Marsalis said in closing.
Clearly, the musical friendship between Marsalis and Dominguez has already borne great fruits. Let’s hope the conversation continues.
This blog entry posted by Tim Wilkins.