Saturday, January 19, 2008

Marsalis' slow turn on Ellington

Wynton MarsalisWynton Marsalis gives "Cabin in the Sky" his thumbs-down. Still, his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, in Chicago on Friday, couldn't resist dusting off "Going Up," Duke Ellingon's contribution to the thinly plotted 1943 race movie. "He must have thought, something better come of this mess," Marsalis said.

Rookie director Vincente Minnelli seems to do more than go through the motions (note the nice dance-hall tracking shot). But it's good to have even a cheesy M-G-M document of Ellington's heyday, just as putting slapstick standards to celluloid elevated the Three Stooges to historians of burlesque. (Watching my dog launch himself at parkway squirrels still triggers my recall of "Slowly I Turn").

Maybe Marsalis came to Symphony Center via ... Niagara Falls! The Jazz at Lincoln Center band was dressed in gray suits matching the Ellington clip, ready for fun with standards and obscurities on an assortment of instruments. Elliot Mason took an uptempo turn on bass trumpet; "The Single Petal of a Rose" featured Joe Temperley on bass clarinet alongside a dukish Dan Nimmer. Ali Jackson's brushwork on "Solitude" was a simple display of skill. Marsalis not only channeled Leonard Slatkin in a music appreciation lecture but flirted with audience members seated onstage. A swinging time was had by all.

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