Orchestra Hall at the Max M. Fisher Music Center
Ellis Marsalis kicked off the 2006-20007 LaSalle Bank Paradise Jazz Series with a performance last Friday night at Orchestra Hall. Verdict: It was snooze. I didn’t expect Marsalis to swing; the man is 72, and wailing and showboating on his instrument would’ve been uncharacteristic. But he favored standards, most of them played so gently that it seemed like feathers were attached to the tips of his fingers, and even the more up-tempo material was delivered with a too-professional hush. Fortunately, Marsalis broke up the chestnut revue with some original numbers (“Swinging at the Haven,” “Old Folks”), and these formed the more interesting part of the show.
But what do I know? I was yawning by the end of the first set, and wanted to leave at the intermission. But my wife said she was really enjoying Marsalis’s performance, so I felt obligated to stick around for marital reasons.
Saxophonist Diego Rivera, a member of the Michigan State University Professors of Jazz band, sat in with Marsalis’s trio at Orchestra Hall. Rivera is no stranger to playing standard compositions — those old tunes are a big part of the Professors of Jazz repertoire. He also has a fat, rewarding sound on tenor, so it’s always a treat to hear him. However, this was the first time the saxophonist seemed unsure of himself. After a series of uninspired solos, he finally showed signs of his old self on the Billy Strayhorn gem “Chelsea Bridge,” on which he ate up the chord changes like musical cereal.
Marsalis is obviously a big fan of Rivera. He told the audience that when they feel the urge to dog the current generation of jazz musicians, they should listen to the saxophonist because he’s such a complete jazz musician. Rivera is accomplished, alright. But even the best players have a lousy night, and this seemed like his. The second set was just as uninteresting as the first, and the show ended without a comfortable groove ever being found.
Charles L. Latimer