Three jazz concerts in Arizona

Brad Mehldau, Count Basie Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis' Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

By Patricia Myers

Three recent jazz concerts were as satisfying as they were different from each other.

Pianist Brad Mehldau’s trio played from a diverse repertoire, from Cole Porter to Alice in Chains, at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Jan.22. The music had multi-rhythm explorations, keeping the audience alert for ever-changing variables. Mehldau’s classical training was evident in his intriguing keyboard soliloquies.

A few weeks later, the Count Basie Orchestra was on the same stage for two shows on Jan. 29. The Basie book continues to expand and change, although several favorites oldies always are included (“April in Paris” is a given). The band seems to have a new energy now that it’s under the new direction of its former drummer Dennis Mackrel. One of the pleasures of this band is to hear musicians who worked with the Count himself: John Williams on baritone sax (starting in 1970), bassist James Leary (1980s) and trombonist Clarence Banks (1984, the year Basie died).

The style and content of Wynton Marsalis' Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra has always been progressive, while still swinging in the big band tradition. On stage at the Mesa Arts Center on Feb. 17, the aggregation focused during the first half on the leader’s fairly new "Vitoria Suite." Inspired by Basque country, the segments melded American blues and Spanish folk-flamenco overtones. The second half was filled with new arrangements of Chick Corea compositions. Marsalis always writes solos for specific musicians, just as Duke Ellington did, including a lengthy outing for 81-year-old baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley. I was disappointed not to hear at least part of Marsalis’ new “Swing Symphony” that I’d heard so much about but, as the song goes"maybe next year."

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