WICN Concert Review: Wynton Marsalis
Written by Doug Hall on July 15, 2022
Wynton Marsalis Septet at Jimmy’s Jazz & Blues Club, 7/9/22
As Wynton Marsalis, the supremely gifted trumpeter, composer, and veteran band and orchestral leader of top-tier talent, approaches his 61st birthday, his career resume could also read, “ambassador and curator of jazz history.” He remains a driving force in the recognition of the seminal importance and influence of this original American art form. Currently, as artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and bandleader of its orchestra, Marsalis’ vision and educational dedication have created a renaissance of related musical and outreach projects.
In a word, jazz has been richly cultivated and grown under his watch.
With his whirlwind career as a bandleader, performer, recording artist, and all projects in between, Marsalis is also now on tour, primarily with his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, both in the US and in Europe. But on a limited tour, listeners at Jimmy’s Jazz & Blues Club in Portsmouth N.H. were treated to a sold-out performance of his Wynton Marsalis Septet. The 2-set shows at Jimmy’s on July 9 and 10 offered the audience a special opportunity to hear his masterful trumpet playing alongside handpicked musicians, both combining lifelong musical friendships and his passion for discovering new talent.
These two evening shows also highlighted Jimmy’s state-of-the-art sound system, which in this intimate nightclub setting, allowed listeners to appreciate each instrument and solo, encouraging mindful attention to the stage.
Playing several compositions from his 2021 release The Democracy! Suite, Marsalis featured the exceptional younger musicians that represented the core featured instruments besides his trumpet (Sean Mason, piano; Chris Crenshaw, trombone; Chris Lewis, alto sax; and Abdias Armenteros, tenor & soprano sax). In addition, they were joined by two veteran musicians who have played with Marsalis since his youth, Carlos Henriquez on bass and Obed Calvaire on drums.
In a WICN interview before the show, Marsalis talked about his enthusiasm for these “kids” as he referred to them – all graduates from top music schools. “We have four young musicians with us who really can play…and as far as the main theme is concerned, we were just rehearsing, and Carlos (Henriquez) was just saying how well they play. So, I’m really just looking forward to playing with them because when you get musicians on this kind of level – it’s very rare.”
Ever present in his thoughts is the passing of the patriarch of his family, Ellis Marsalis (due to Covid complications), who was also a mentor musically and socially to all of his sons. The opening song to this release is Be Present, and it serves both as a reminder of how life is fleeting and a shout-out of recognition for all those on the frontlines of the pandemic, and those we have lost. An adaptation of Horace Silver’s Song for My Father, it bounces with a lovely upbeat melody and rhythm with a big band swing to it. During a song break, Marsalis spoke of the integrity that his father instilled in him, using a metaphor example of Ellis Marsalis playing in a near-empty venue, as if it were filled.
Another highlight of the evening’s performance was the composition It Come ‘Round ‘Gin, which speaks to the current social and political crisis in the U.S., and on stage Marsalis pointed out that he remembered in his community when elders remarked, “I remember when so and so happened and it came ‘round ‘gin.” Marsalis led on his horn with sublime tone and the younger horn players carried the melody forward, engaging a short solo between trumpet and Abdias Armenteros on saxophone. The next moment was turned over to Sean Mason on piano, who caressed the keyboard with trills of runs and light reflections to generate a stylish and joyous romp.
The set finale was the last selection on his The Democracy! Suite release, That’s When All Will See, asking for a final reflection on the current state of our country and a path forward. “The question that confronts us right now as a nation is, ‘Do we want to find a better way?’” Marsalis asks, using himself as an example of having his own ignorance. Reaching deep into his New Orleans roots, the sound of a Dixieland marching band ushers forward on stage, as if on the streets of the French Quarter. Trumpet and saxophones engaged with the exquisite melody, with a superlative lead by Chris Crenshaw on trombone. The backbone rhythm section of veterans Carlos Henriquez on stand-up bass and Obed Calvaire on drums keeps a driving groove. The song concludes with a beautiful finish, bringing the tempo down to a simple gospel chant, That’s When All Will See.