Privileged is the best way to describe those of us lucky to be in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall last evening to see and hear the Jazz At the Lincoln Center Orchestra under Wynton Marsalis’s direction pay tribute to Blue Note Records. The big band arrangements of classic Blue Note recordings were simultaneously a homage to the originals, while adding new and exciting depth to these classic tunes.
Wynton opened the evening saying that the great Joe Temperley was planning to be at the concert but was not well enough to fly over. Joe is Lochgelly in Fife’s only known contribution to the world of jazz and an inspirational character to boot. He had spoken to Wynton on the telephone earlier and insisted that they open with Jackie McLean’s ‘Appointment in Ghana’ and closed with some Duke Ellington…the orchestra duly obliged. There were a couple of Horace Silver tunes, including the classic, ‘Señor Blues’ and these were followed by McCoy Tyner’s excellent ‘Search For Peace ‘from The Real McCoy, which was one of the standout tunes of the first half of the programme that concluded with Herbie Hancock’s ‘Riot’.
The second half began with a trip back to Marsalis’s hometown of New Orleans and a small group workout on Sidney Bechet’s ‘Weary Blues’ that Bechet recorded in 1945 with his Blue Note Jazz Men. Close your eyes and it was easy to imagine being in Storyville among the brothels and bars on Franklin Street, Rampart Street or Basin Street. The whole orchestra rejoined them onstage for ‘Thespian’ from Freddie Redd’s Shades of Redd, which was another magical moment among an evening of magical moments. This complex, soulful piece was superbly arranged by trombonist Vincent Gardner.
From this point the Orchestra departed from the Blue Note script and for good reason. To everyone’s surprise Wynton introduced Scottish virtuoso violinist Nicola Benedetti who performed ‘Calling the Indians’ from Marsalis’s epic Pulitzer prize oratorio Blood On the Fields. While not quite Nicola’s hometown, it was, for the largely Scottish audience, wonderful to see one of the country’s greatest talents in this unusual setting.
As promised the main part of the concert finished with Duke Ellington, but not something that many would have necessarily anticipated; it was a part of Ellington’s ‘Black Brown and Beige’ suite with a fantastic coda at its conclusion by the five piece saxophone section. There was a deserved standing ovation and Marsalis came out with his regular quintet and did a medley for an encore that concluded with a sensuous and dazzling reading of ‘Embraceable You’. Another standing ovation and no one left thinking anything less than, “that was a brilliant.” night.”