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Marsalis' dynamic statement

November 01, 2002|Howard Reich | Chicago Tribune

When Wynton Marsalis' epic suite "All Rise" (****, Sony) had its world premiere in New York, in 1999, the sprawling work proved somewhat episodic, its cast of symphonic musicians, jazz instrumentalists and gospel choir only sporadically functioning in tandem. But the new CD recording by Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen's Los Angeles Philharmonic and fully three choral groups (including the Northridge Singers of Cal State Northridge) reveals "All Rise" for the masterpiece it is.

In many ways, it stands as Marsalis' most brilliant large composition to date. Certainly it addresses a broader array of musical languages than the trumpeter-composer's great "Blood on the Fields -- which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997 -- and takes on even more ambitious subject matter than his jazz-meets-gospel instrumental suite "In This House, On This Morning."

The miracle of "All Rise" -- a quasi-religious work that contemplates the nature of faith and redemption -- is that its 12 stylistically free-ranging movements cohere as a single, dynamic statement.

After a stunning, Stravinsky-influenced opening movement, the work explores everything from all-American hoedown music (in the "Wild Strumming of Fiddle" movement) to Argentine tango (in the orchestral tour de force "El Gran Baile de la Reina") to gospel-tinged choral exhortations (in the work's grand finale).

Conductor Salonen finds continuity among these divergent musical elements, in a work that reaffirms Marsalis' position as one of the most accomplished composers working today, genre notwithstanding.

*

Chano Dominguez in two worlds

Various artists have dabbled in merging flamenco and jazz, but few have done so with half the eloquence and authenticity of pianist Chano Dominguez, who leads a band of bona fide virtuosos on "Hecho a mano" (****, Sunnyside). (The title translates to "handmade.")

To hear Dominguez's rhythmically volatile jazz pianism accompanied by a band steeped in flamenco tradition is to behold an artistic breakthrough. Whether Dominguez is performing works of his own or standards by Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk, his music sounds natural and persuasive, as if flamenco rhythms and jazz improvisational techniques were born for each other.

Surely this recording succeeds because of Dominguez's mastery of both worlds. The fiery dance motifs that guitarist Tomatito (also known as Jose Fernandez Torres) articulates on "Retaila," for instance, are answered by rhythmically explosive, unpredictable jazz improvisations from Dominguez. Similarly, the exotic scales and lush chords that Dominguez plays on a fandango called "Pinar hondo" become fodder for guitarist Nono Garcia, the two musicians riffing in a jazz style but within a flamenco context.

Backed by keenly sensitive percussionists, Dominguez has produced not only a glorious merger of music of Iberia and the Americas, but also one of the most original albums of the year.

*

Fearless, ferocious 'Freedom Suite'

The David S. Ware Quartet's combustive re-imagining of Sonny Rollins' classic "Freedom Suite" veers further from the original than Branford Marsalis' practically neo-classic version of the work earlier this year (on "Footsteps of Our Fathers"). For sheer ferocity of expression, fearlessness of conception and brilliance of delivery, the Ware version (*** 1/2, AUM Fidelity) is hard to beat, the tenor saxophonist using Rollins' themes as springboards for thunderous saxophone rhetoric.

Granted, Ware's tenor orations often push into an abstract region that some listeners might call free jazz, yet his solos are so magnificent in their sweep, so propulsive in rhythmic drive and so linear in melodic development that they prove impossible to resist. With the formidable Matthew Shipp adding his all-over-the-keyboard virtuosity to a work originally recorded without piano, it's clear that this band has reconceived the original from top to bottom.

Guillermo E. Brown's impressionistic drums and William Parker's tonally resplendent bass help this quartet to sound much larger and mightier than the sum of its parts. In the end, this "Freedom Suite" is so broad in scope and vast in expressive range that it stands as a fitting response to Rollins' masterwork.

*

Howard Reich is jazz critic at the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune company.

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