Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, 'Live In Cuba,' on Blue Engine [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt on Aug 26, 2015 05:26 PM EDT

Now that Cuba and the U.S. are cozying up again for the first time since the Batista regime in 1953, I want to go to Havana to smoke a fine cigar, drink rum, watch their baseball, hit their beaches, hear their music and eat that famous sandwich. For now, though, I'll settle for the grandiose historic two-disc release from Blue Engine of Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra playing live for the first and only time in Havana at The Mella Theater for three nights in October 2010.

With a program of Ellington, Basie, Monk, Dizzy, Benny Carter, Afro-Cuban and originals, all performed by this crack tight unit of five saxophones, four trumpets, three trombones and a piano/bass/drums rhythm section (15 in all), under the direction of bassist Carlos Henriquez, it’s a meeting of cultures. However, it is also the debut Blue Engine release, a label with hundreds of hours of great jazz already stored away from Lincoln Center shows and waiting to be heard.

Disc #1 ends with the powerful right/left combination to the pleasure center of the brain with Monk's "Light Blue" as pianist Don Nimmer approximates The Master percussively and effectively behind the kind of complex charts Thelonious specialized in creating. Actually, trombonist Vincent Gardner arranged it for this special evening and it comes out with a mysterious avant-garde vibe. If that doesn't floor you with one punch, then here comes the other, Duke's "Braggin' In Brass," in which the title says it all. Duke used to use it to showcase his men, like the colors in an artist's palette. Same thing in this recording.

More Duke on "Limbo Jazz" opens Disc #2 with solos from trumpeter Ryan Kisor and baritone sax man Joe Temperley. There's nothing more earthy and honkin' than the sound of a baritone atop a trumpet section! Wynton gets to shine on his own "Doin' Your Thing" before a glorious splash of horns introduces trombonist Chris Crenshaw who sings the Jimmy Rushing part on Count Basie's "I Left My Baby." It's a supreme blues moment betwixt all the swing, salsa and beautiful balladry.

September will see this orchestra in Newark, NJ (11), New York City (12), Los Angeles (16), Rohnert Park, CA (17), Berkeley, CA (18), Monterey (19/20), Davis, CA (21), Mesa, AZ (25/26) and Santa Fe, NM (29).

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TagsWynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Blue Engine Records, REVIEW