Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Wynton Marsalis And The Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra With Yacub Addy And Odadaa!: Congo Square

No one alive bore first-hand witness to the music played by African slaves in pre-Civil War New Orleans and, of course, no recordings exist. So the most Wynton Marsalis could have hoped to accomplish with his ambitious, two-hour, 14-movement Congo Square suite was not to approximate that unknown music but to evoke its spirit. Working solely with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra would not have done the trick. But by augmenting and juxtaposing the Western ensemble with Odadaa!, a nine-piece Ghanaian-rooted troupe of percussionists and vocalists led by septuagenarian Yacub Addy (who has been New York State-based for a couple of decades), Marsalis was able in their co-composed work to chart the emergence of modern American music by calling attention to the well from which it spouted.

This 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival performance, presented in its entirety without commentary (which would have been a valuable addition), is an ever-lively, multi-hued affair, rich in its historical implications and the parallels it draws: Watching and listening to the two entities collide and contrast, it’s not difficult to understand where jazz’s intrinsic freedom derived from. Congo Square (now a section of Louis Armstrong Park) was the only place where slaves were allowed to congregate and express themselves, and if the sparks generated by Odadaa! here are at all indicative of the feverishness that must have engulfed that small spot on the city’s map until the gatherings came to an end, the inevitability of jazz is put into greater perspective.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published