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Arts

Jason Marsalis at the Jazz Kitchen: Vibraphonist from a famous family re-creates a famous combination


Jason Marsalis took care of business with his Goodman-inspired quartet.
Explicitly moving forward and backward over time in his set list, Jason Marsalis played an illuminating program with his quartet Sunday night at the Jazz Kitchen.

The 42-year-old vibraphonist (also known as a drummer through such connections as the Marcus Roberts Trio, heard at Clowes Hall in 2015) immediately paid tribute the Benny Goodman combo of sainted memory in taking the stage.

Hallowed names of Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, and Gene Krupa were invoked to refurbish memory lane at the start. With Joe Goldberg on clarinet, Kris Tokarski on piano, and Gerald T. Watkins on drums, Marsalis resurrected "After You've Gone" and "Sweet Sue, Just You" flawlessly to open the show.

Spiffy coordination, a wealth of improvisatory ideas, and flashiness linked to a heart-tug or two ruled the performances in the manner of the model quartet of the late 1930s. Using soft mallets in "Sweet Sue," Marsalis distantly evoked the Guy Lombardo version of the song. Watkins' ricky-ticking on rims behind Tokarski's solo was just this side of corny. But it was the best kind of touchstoning.

The adroitness of the players was exhibited in "I Surrender, Dear," another evergreen, with lots of smoothly traded solo spotlights in different parts of the song, "A" section to bridge and back again. At the end, a florid unaccompanied cadenza by the leader confirmed his expert manner of sounding straightforward and flamboyant at the same time.

Newer tunes stretched the musical boundaries somewhat, though brother Wynton's "School Boy" and Jason's own "The Virtue of Patience" reached comfortably back to older styles, with two-beat swing occupying the foreground. The latter piece was a salute to Thelonious Monk, the bandleader informed the audience — a tune that started to work best in that capacity when he found a slower tempo for it. Sashaying harmonies linked the melody to the Monk idiom as the piece loped along.

Another innovative master, Ornette Coleman, received honor in the quartet's treatment of "Tomorrow Is the Question," with the skipping insouciance of the original well replicated. A more eccentric innovator, largely untouched by fame, was brought forward as the quartet threaded its skillfully pointillistic way through fellow New Orleansian Rick Trolsen's "Blues for Man's Extinction." Marsalis' two solos — one with two mallets, the second with four — were outstanding.

The old Bobby Hebb song "Sunny" was notable for Goldberg's low-register solo, and its succession of key changes was patterned smoothly on the original. The four-to-the-bar moderate swing tempo was of course second nature to this elegant group. And among many signs of the band's compatibility, there was superb interaction between Goldberg and Marsalis in Bill Bruford's "Either End of August."

Reaching back at the end to ancient Dixieland (though that term is somewhat in disfavor among "trad"-oriented musicians), the quartet played a hearty, well-knit version of "That's a Plenty," which hails from ragtime and the march genre in its succession of "strains." I marveled at the way Marsalis draped rhythmically contrasting phrases over the infectious beat in his solo. But there were marvels all around in the course of this memorable engagement.


[Photo by Rob Ambrose]



Indianapolis Opera stages a buoyant, sturdy "L'Elisir d'Amore"

The definite article has been lopped off the English title in Indianapolis Opera's publicity for its production of Gaetano Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore," but that's pretty much the extent of any damage to the amiable 1832
Alfred Savia is a well-established conductor around Indiana.
romantic farce that the company is offering to open its 2019-2020 season. The production of "The Elixir of Love" (sung in Italian, with surtitles in English) has one more performance at the Tarkington in Carmel's Center for the Performing Arts.

There's some mild updating that allows for an outreach to the Indianapolis brand of motorsports: A vintage car comes onstage as the quack doctor Dulcamara makes his entrance, pushed by Indycar driver Zach Veatch, appearing in his opera debut and probably happy not to have a singing role. The sets and costuming looked cozy and idiomatic. The action now takes place in 1910, and the canny heroine Adina is here a cafe proprietor rather than a wealthy farm owner.

The dramatic difference in social position between her and the awkward swain Nemorino is thus muted. But the difficulty in making smooth the course of true love holds up, and much credit goes to the singers filling those roles, tenor Jesus Garcia and  soprano Ashley Fabian. They are well supported, like the chorus and the other singers in named roles, by a usually adept, crystal-clear orchestra under the experienced hand of Alfred Savia.

Musically, there was little to cavil about in Saturday's performance. True, the vigorously deployed baritone of Ethan Vincent shot up above pitch at the end of Sergeant Belcore's entrance aria, and the opening chorus of Act 2 was a bit of a jumble on both entrance and exit. Otherwise, this was a fully rewarding performance.

The singing was generally enhanced and the comedy underscored by the director's notions: It was amusing to see the busboy Nemorino sing of unrequited love while absentmindedly emptying a salt shaker with his gestures, for example. But I could have done without the series of toilet trips by the village women as Gianetta's relaying some important gossip is hindered.

On the whole, whatever A. Scott Parry inserted by way of business hewed to the spirit of the piece. The movement always made sense, and there was even some incidental usefulness of the vintage racecar in the first act. In Act 2, the women in on the secret of Nemorino's unexpected wealth worked believably on gaining his interest, despite his having tippled too much of Dulcamara's elixir. The scene was among the delightful episodes in staging that neither undercut nor overloaded the ample comedy embedded in the music.

The duets had plenty of pizazz. Nemorino and Dulcamara conveyed the twinned energy of dupe and deceiver in "Obbligato! obbligato!"  The brief buffo duet that Adina and Dulcamara, the con man who is richly hyperbolic in Gary Simpson's portrayal, present to an appreciative audience of villagers had the right travesty brio. The opera's turning-point, as Adina convinces Dulcamara that true love requires no magic potion, was brightly staged and sung.


Ashley Fabian and Jesus Garcia play the lovers.
Indeed, Fabian's Adina, after an impressive start, seemed to get even warmer and more agile as those qualities were needed in the second act. Her interactions with Garcia's Nemorino presented a credible push-pull of attraction and indifference. Garcia left no holds barred in the gusto with which he tackled the role of a naive lover taken for a simpleton who seems to gain in intelligence the more he learns about love. His singing of the opera's perpetually worth-waiting-for aria, "Una furtiva lagrima," had the requisite ardor and was exquisitely shaped.

Vincent's Belcore consistently projected the personality of a type inherited from ancient Roman comedy, the miles gloriosus or "braggart captain" (though he's only a sergeant). His forceful baritone and cock-of-the-walk carriage made him a believable rival — and an initially successful one — to Nemorino. Katherine Fili sparkled with her pert singing in the supporting role of Gianetta, who busies herself tidying up after Nemorino in the first scene and gradually assumes the time-honored function of soubrette.

Like everyone else, her suitability was exemplary. In short, the show never had to run even one lap under the yellow flag.



Urbanski introduces ISO patrons to a colorful 20th-century symphony


Early in his tenure as music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Krzysztof Urbanski put his stamp
on programming with the inclusion of music from his homeland, Poland — just as one of his predecessors, the late Raymond Leppard, included more English music than ISO patrons had been used to hearing.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996)
Now in the twilight of his time at the ISO's artistic helm, Urbanski this weekend sheds light on a little-known countryman who was a citizen of the Soviet Union for most of his life. Mieczyslaw Weinberg was previously known to me only by one work, his sixth string quartet, as performed by the Pacifica Quartet in its series of Cedille recordings, "The Soviet Experience."

Taking in the symphonic Weinberg at Hilbert Circle Theatre with previous knowledge of this particular string quartet revealed to me the signature style of an inviting musical mind. Symphony No. 3, op. 45, is a lavish, unexpected exemplar of the ISO's current slogan, "You're Invited." I would describe the style as emotional, mercurial, briskly wide-ranging, and both restless and persistent in its hold on the listener's attention. Everything works, and there is about it neither doctrinaire modernism nor yearning for the past. The huge ovation that greeted its final ensemble shout, a confirmation of well-stated brass glory, indicated how grateful Friday's audience was for the invitation.

That string quartet I'm familiar with is colorful enough, to be sure. Taking advantage of the symphony orchestra's broad palette, Weinberg in this work actively distributes his material around from section to section, soloist to soloist. There is a kind of "concerto for orchestra" display about the piece. A lofty flute theme over a rustling accompaniment gets things started, and among the rewards of the first movement is a feverish, thickening assembly of forces, with a violent cast to it, that manages to allow room for a waltz with a memorable oboe solo. A striking episode leading toward the end relieves all the tension that has been wound up in an almost prayerful way.

This weeekend's soloist, Anna Vinnitskaya, took command of the Brahms Second.
The score is rich in folk-music suggestions. The clearest sort of fraternal feeling with a Soviet composer emerges in the third movement, where a quiet, low-lying theme ascends in both pitch and intensity to the neighborhood of Shostakovich, as in the slow movement of his well-known Fifth Symphony. Possibly a North American premiere, this performance deserves a substantial endorsement from the public at today's repeat (5:30 p.m.).

The Weinberg certainly held its own in a concert featuring one of the most formidable and admired of piano concerotos, No. 2 in B-flat major, op. 83, by Johannes Brahms. Urbanski conducted with evident rapport for the guest soloist, Anna Vinnitsakaya, a Russian pianist of stamina and vigor sufficient to bring off the work creditably. In the first movement, often her properly loud playing — from the initial fiery outburst on — seemed overloaded with accents. The authoritative touch she applied to the piano part could have been firmly asserted without quite so much highlighting. But the forcefulness never seemed mechanical.

She certainly had a range of sonority at her fingertips over the course of the 50-minute work. There was a nice flow to her phrasing, and by the Andante, it was evident that she didn't find the concerto's lyricism an unwelcome arena for expression. She was fully engaged with the composer's tender side, which was indelibly put forth in the initial butter-smooth cello solo (and subsequent revisitings) by principal cellist Austin Huntington. Particularly gratifying was Vinnitskaya's light touch and almost elfin manner when the finale shifts to zesty triplets, with Urbanski guiding the accompaniment with complementary nimbleness.








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