The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis has been busy this year with new live recordings. Between January and March, the collective released four new live recordings. One of those recordings was a performance of the greatest hits of famed jazz sax player Wayne Shorter. The other paid tribute to legendary band leader and composer Duke Ellington. Yet another was an original work by one of the organization’s own musicians, Sherman Irby while the latest was a tribute to the history of the Kansas Jayhawks basketball program. Simply put, the group’s latest group of live recordings has offered audiences quite a variety of material to engage and entertain audiences. JLCO continued that trend of presenting diversity in its releases Friday with the release of Christopher Crenshaw’s The Fifties: A Prism. Crafted by Crenshaw, another member of JLCO, this latest offering from JLCO impresses in part because it continues that noted trend. This will be discussed shortly. The songs that make up the body of the recording are just as important to its overall presentation as its approach, and will be addressed a little later. The performance of those songs is also important to address in an examination of the recording, and will be addressed later, too. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of Christopher Crenshaw’s The Fifties: A Prism. All things considered, they make the recording a modern day blast from the past that any jazz lover will enjoy.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis has established a trend of success in recent years with its live recordings. That trend continues with its latest recording, Christopher Crenshaw’s The Fifties: A Prism. That is proven in part through the recording’s through its concept. The recording’s concept is a retrospective on the music of the 1950s. More specifically, it pays tribute to the jazz sounds of the 1950s, according to Crenshaw himself during an interview promoting the new recording.
“When I was presented with the idea of coming up with a suite dealing with the 1950s, I immediately realized this was going to cover all the genres of jazz, from bebop to freedom music,” Crenshaw said.
That tribute to the various jazz subgenres from the 1950s is a welcome presentation, as it continues to show the intention of the JLCO to bring something new and unique to audiences from one performance to the next. It is just the latest unique presentation from the group, too. From taking on material from the realm of family music, to creating a tribute to the Kansas Jayhawks basketball program, to creating a new musical interpretation of Dante’s epic poem Inferno to taking on the music of jazz legend Wayne Shorter and more, the group has constantly given audiences something different and enjoyable in every one of its offerings. This record is just one more of those unique, original concepts. Keeping that in mind, that original approach in itself makes the concert recording well worth experiencing. It is just part of what makes the recording engaging and entertaining. Its featured songs add to that experience.
The songs that make up the body of Christopher Crenshaw’s The Fifties: A Prism are noteworthy because they do in fact cover a wide range of sounds from the fifties. Right from the performance’s outset, audiences are treated to a touch of bebop in ‘Flipped His Lid.’ The nearly seven-minute composition exhibits that through its up-tempo arrangement and its key and chord changes, as well as its full-on improvisational style from its soloists. From the beginning to the end of this opus, audiences’ engagement and entertainment is fully ensured. That swing-inspired bop sound continues in the performance’s second song, ‘Just A-Slidin’’ before giving way to more of a mainstream jazz approach in ‘Conglomerate.’ ‘Cha-Cha Toda la Noche’ presents more of an Afro-Cuban jazz style. Given, that genre originally is rooted in music from the 1940s, but since that time, has become very much a standard within the jazz world. JLCO switches things up again in its performance of ‘Unorthodox Sketches,’ opting this time for a more cool jazz approach, once more ensuring audiences’ engagement and entertainment. ‘Pursuit of the New Thing,’ which closes out the record, has elements of bop, but could als be argued to have a touch of free jazz. Given, it’s not a free jazz composition in its purity, but that seeming combination of elements shows once again a concerted effort by Crenshaw to craft another song that paid tribute to that subgenre of jazz, too. Looking back at the album’s body, listeners can say with certainty that Crenshaw accomplished his goal of paying tribute to the jazz of the 1950s with these compositions. To that end, it is clear why they are so important to this recording’s presentation. They show that Crenshaw did not rest easily on his laurels. Rather, that he really wanted to keep listeners engaged and entertained, which he did so quite successfully here. While the songs featured in this recording play their own critical role in the whole of JLCO’s latest live offering, they are only one more portion of what makes it important. The group’s performance of each song is important in its own right to the whole of the presentation, too.
The performance of the JLCO’s members in each of this concert’s songs is noteworthy because it displays the professionalism and expertise of each musician. From the energetic, yet controlled performance of the show’s opener to the equally upbeat yet controlled performance of Just A-Slidin’ to the more subdued performance of ‘Conglomerate’ and beyond, each musician exhibits the utmost precision in his/her performance. The group showed throughout the concert, full attention to the dynamics in each arrangement, which in turn added so much depth and enjoyment to the show in whole. The performances show that each of the group’s musicians clearly gave the utmost attention to giving audiences something memorable. That effort and care paid off in whole, putting the finishing touch to this recording. Between this element, the songs featured in the recording and the very concept at the recording’s heart, audiences get here, another successful offering from JLCO, which cements even more, its place in the bigger picture of the jazz world.
Christopher Crenshaw’s The Fifties: A Prism is another strong, positive offering from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra that lovers of the genre (and its many subgenres) will wholly appreciate. It is also a live recording that is deserving of its own applause in this year’s field of new live offerings overall. That is proven in part through the very approach taken with this record. Once again, the orchestra has offered audiences a unique concept, this time paying tribute to the history of at least one era of jazz history. The songs featured throughout the record add to that impact, clearly taking influence from specific jazz subgenres from the 1950s. The performance of the collective in each performance puts the final touch to the recording. Each item is key in its own way to the whole of the recording. All things considered, they make The Fifties: A Prism its own musically colorful recording.
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