Wynton takes shots at the Spotted Dog

In a rare double-header, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis played Symphony Hall and the Spotted Dog on the same night. Martin Longley was on his trail.

Wynton Marsalis & the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra
Symphony Hall

The recent death of pianist Horace Silver had a predictable effect on JALCO’s Blue Note anniversary celebration programme. Their set opened with a pair of pieces penned by this towering figure of hard boppin’ Afro-Latin soul-jazz. The essential Señor Blues made way for the less obvious Peace, which were followed by Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge and Wayne Shorter’s Infant Eyes. This latter downplayed the usual heavy featuring of soloists, choosing instead an ensemble sound that savoured suspended textures of aural finery.

Silver returned with Cape Verde Blues, this bias towards the pianist facilitating a stronger Caribbean content than would usually be presented by JALCO. It was Afro-Latin syncopations all the way, studded with a diamond-sharp trumpet solo from Marcus Printup. This orchestra always excels, but there was a sense of heavily marshalled self-control in their delivery, with hints of fire only beginning to fleck around the edges when they broke into Skippy, the Thelonious Monk tune arranged by Ted Nash.

Music director Wynton Marsalis himself played a dynamic trumpet solo, chased by a strong trombone run from Elliot Mason. The second half neared its climax with an elaborately spiky rendition of Un Poco Loco, that Bud Powell classic. Vincent Gardner dragged slowed-down trombone phrases over the racing beat, at odds with the fleet time of the tune, deliberately setting up a pulling tension. Nash leaped in, seizing his chance for a fluid alto ripple.

These were the occasional outbreaks of a more spontaneous, lusty-driving creativity, but the majority of the gig was more self-consciously crafted, slick and poised, but lacking the original sound of discovery that would often pervade those old Blue Note recordings. The evening concluded with an encore that involved most of the players leaving the stage, with Marsalis remaining, along with the core rhythm trio.

This offered an opportunity to hear his horn, loosened by having enough space to breathe, unfettered by dense arrangements. This is where his phrasing agility was given a showcase, soon to be joined by saxophonist Walter Blanding, for a relaxed tussle. It was a striking way to close the evening. Perhaps the rest of the orchestra expected to be called out for a further encore, but as it happened, this quintet segment turned out to be the finale.

Except that later the same evening, at the Spotted Dog’s regular Tuesday jam session, who should stroll into this hidden Irish pub than Marsalis and Blanding, clearly seeking some late-night sparring action.

It was a strange sight indeed to observe these starry Americans in a small pub environment. For the handful of folks who attended both gigs, this was an ideal way to experience Marsalis in a hugely contrasting mode, from concert hall to after-hours joint. He and Blanding each played their own spots, then united for a solo-trading spate with trumpeter Reuben Fowler, one of the regulars at the Dog. Blanding had just brought along his curved soprano, and proceeded to flabbergast the gathering with his serpentine circular-breathing epics.

Marsalis kept things spliced and diced, scattering rapid buckshot particles with accurate aim. Ultimately, the listener had to conclude that jazz is most at home in the close quarters of a club or a pub, where reactions are instant, a lightning social and sonic etiquette of organised chaos, on the hoof, and completely of the moment.