I am in the UK, with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, doing a 2 1/2 week residency at the Barbican, with a program focusing on collaborations and commissions. These are mostly Wynton’s big pieces, such as Congo Square, Swing Symphony, and the Abyssinian Mass. All very intense stuff, and the rehearsals have left me feeling like I’ve done 15 rounds with Mike Tyson. Thank God I still have both my ears intact.
We’ve been here a week now, mostly rehearsing, and had our first concert on Tuesday night. This was the European premier of Congo Square, a collaboration with the African group Yacub Addy and ODADDA! (The exclamation mark is part of their name, not an editorial). The concert was killing, and actually had the normally subdued British audience expressing themselves in ways I haven’t heard before. Maybe they were all from Greece and Italy. It was a great concert, but as usual, after this two-hour, very densely orchestrated piece that features some of the loudest drums I have ever heard, I was pretty spent.
After the concert a bunch of us headed over to the club Ronnie Scotts to play in an organized jam session (another aspect of the residency here). Although Elliot Mason and I were officially asked to take part, Marcus Printup, Ali Jackson and Vince Gardner all decided to come as well. When we got there, the jam session host said the first band was running late: the session wouldn't start for half an hour, and then they would play an hour set, take a break, and then invite us to sit in on the next set. Elliot and looked at each other, like “forget this!,” but realizing we were hungry, and decided instead of abandoning the jam to occupy the time at a nice restaurant called Balans-Soho. It ended up being a group of ten - cats from the band, some JLCO staff, a few friends.
After the meal, we headed back to the club to find the second set in full swing. The host, seeing our arrival, invited us to the bandstand. I looked around, and noticed that with the exception of the guitarist and bass player, we were all JLCO cats, still in our tan Brooks Brothers suits. Former JLCO pianist Aaron Goldberg joined us as well, so it also became a small reunion.
We settled on the jam session favorite, Stella by Starlight. After the melody, Marcus and I attempted to play my head “Ida's Spoons” (based on Stella), but I was playing alto (not tenor - the horn I used to record it on my album “Still Evolved”) and I was kind of messing up the melody. Marcus was doing better, but not much, and it sounded loose an funky. But not bad, really.
Everyone played long (as usual), but interesting solos, and when we got to the end of Aaron’s very creative exploration, the guitarist went into to the melody, attempting to take it out before we could jump in on some trading with Ali. However, we wanted to hear Ali play some, and tried to turn the melody into a set up for a drum solo, but Ali declined, and the tune ended abruptly, awkwardly. I think Ali was mad about something. Jam sessions can be tricky things.
Last night we had our final rehearsal for Wynton’s Mass, written for the Abyssinian church in New York, to celebrate it’s 200th birthday. The choir we are performing with here in London sounds beautiful. I am looking forward to the concert tonight. The music is very dense, and extremely challenging.
We’ve got another week and a half in London, and there is still so much to explore musically, and otherwise.
Here’s more information about our residency:
Here’s a review of our first concert: