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Friday, March 11, 2016

Swing Symphony No. 3. - Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis Residency and The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra - Michael Fowler Centre - 10 March
The night kicked off with 'the opening act', the NZSO, running through their own erratic but yet pedestrian medley of Bernstein, 'West Side Story', and oddly, Copeland's Appalachian Spring (which Mingus would have easily worked up into a fine jazz piece).  For the programme in general, it all seemed completely out of step and unnecessary.  Given the theme of the night I would have thought there was more appropriate available.   

Another disappointment came when the second half kicked off and the NZSO were accompanied on stage by eleven members of New York's JLCO, who squeezed in amongst the over-bloated ranks, but yet there was no sign of Marsalis.  Finally in the second movement of Swing Symphony No,3 he rises, with famous buffed brass in hand, to deliver an all too short, but blissfully sweet solo.  Other New Yorkians call and reply through the piece with a vast array of brass, alto and tenor sax and flutes. 

I have no doubt that for musicians this was a wonderful opportunity to play alongside the master in the low rains but for me I was somewhat disappointed not to see Marsalis out front, at least once in the show, given that he's returning after a long hiatus.  That opportunity may come on Saturday night. 

Critiquing music that was derived from one form and reinterpreted to another and then to another again is an interesting process.  Marsalis' homage to the big band era is an interpretation of juke joint jive, Basie orchestra strut and Gershwin.  Delivered in four distinct movements it comes across as a mash-up meddle of familiar references and touch points. Whilst the work doesn't follow any specific sonata format there is a certain structure about it, returning to themes and landmark points along the way, its best described as musical journey.

Any attempts to find out more about the work were scuttled.  The programme contained a lot of words, but little substance.  Much like the schedule, this left Marsalis’ actual appearance as an ambiguous event. 

However, the collaboration between the JLCO and the NZSO was flawless and the fifteen guests found air in the orchestral onslaughts to give us short but stunning solos.  One unanswered question was if those solos were 'scripted' in to the work or whether Marsalis left room for improvisation.  Either way, they were highlights.

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