The boppin’ and blowin’ boys from the Big Apple blew into Miller-town with their A-game, first as a cool jazz band and then as a brassed-up, opus-producing orchestra.
The New York City Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra stopped in at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee for a one-nighter on a Thursday before right away coaching down to Chicago for the next day full of demo’s and teaching and another concert, and then two days later heading off to Japan to continue the tour.
So, maybe then it would have been understandable it if they’d short-armed it. But the 15-piece ensemble did it fully here in the town whose last remaining national brewery is Miller.
Maybe it was the band wanting to get their trip off to a good start. Maybe it was the new kid in the spiffily-attired gang -- 23-year old pianist Dan Nimmer -- coming home in a very impressive way for his first pro gig since blowing his hometown about a year ago. Whatever it was, the LCJO wowed a very-near sell-out audience in the 2,200+ capacity home of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the concert host.
LCJO leader Wynton Marsalis opened the evening with a comment that set the tone. "We believe all jazz music is modern and we don’t want to segregate ourselves from ourselves," said the most recognized and in many ways the most articulate jazzman today, a stature well earned and repeatedly proven. This led into his gang launching the first set with a true and lively deliverance of King Oliver’s "Dippermouth Blues."
The set also included other five-minute to eight-minute samplings that skipped the jazz chronology forward from Ellington’s "Sunset and the Mockingbird" from his "Queen’s Suite" onto Wayne Shorter’s "Infant Eyes" onto original compositions of LCJO members. The best by far of these was Nimmer’s own short piece, rich, developed, complete, often featuring the harmonic and melodic artistry of his that shone throughout the concert.
But the set also led me to say at intermission, "With all these great players and the number of them, I’d like them to take a piece or two and develop it more."
Be careful what you wish for.
In a tour de force that blew away any limits of length, depth, complexity, and bravura, the LCJO engulfed time and place with its 44-minute version of John Coltrane’s 1964 suite, "A Love Supreme." The performance enraptured many. These included the most perspicacious and picky music critic in or around Milwaukee, who said, "When the last note faded away it seemed everything that could be said not only about jazz but about life on Planet Earth had been said." That from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel critic Tom Strini, highly educated and deeply knowledgeable about music history and theory, and a man nearly impossible to totally please according to his frequent critiques.
Called Coltrane’s most seminal and spiritual work, "Supreme" encompasses music from all over the world in an urban-mixed cascade of four movements, an audio jambalaya of advance and retreat and collision and avoidance and resolution.
LCJO made "Supreme" its own first by taking the passages that Coltrane performed entirely himself and re-arranging them to be delivered one-by-one by the five saxes, four trumpets, and three trombones. Then, they delivered the blues, bebop, West African polyrhythms, Mid-east and Far East scales, ands more with soul, snap, and energy, individually in solos by every single player (including an awesome, fiery rally by Marsalis, who came forward to center stage for the only time all night) and collectively to create total, if raucous symphony.
The LCJO closed with the guys all standing in a line, with each doing a little solo before passing the toke on to the next, as if they were standing around after 3 am in Harlem in summer, waiting for a conductor-less subway train.