A near-annual visit from Wynton Marsalis to the Barbican carries all the excitement, anticipation and joy of Christmas.  To return so swiftly from three sold-out concerts in February earlier this year is the most welcome of overflowing stockings.  Whilst his big band, the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra, carry the swagger and punch of an unrivalled all-star ensemble, Marsalis’ humility and good taste restrain him as a central figure amongst a spoil of riches.  The rarity of this occasion was an opportunity to see Marsalis’s virtuosity released as lead horn in a quartet.

Opening the concert was a performance led by Marsalis’ friend and peer, trumpeter Clarence Adoo, whose career took an abrupt divergence following a life-changing car accident.  Marsalis, a consuming communicator and educator, lead a heart-felt tribute before leading with The Magic Hour, the title-track from his 2004 album.  “This is about that hour just before you manage to get a pre-pubescent to bed,” he explained, “a time when there is a burst of creativity and energy.  It’s written in a diminished attitude, and an augmented condition.”

Marsalis rarely stood closer than a metre away from his microphone, opting instead to swivel and pivot his projection to each corner of the room, or step down from the stage and stroll amongst the audience.  His creativity ranges from blistering post-bop explorations to captivating sonorous indulgences, the latter at their richest on en core Stardust.  At the heart of every note was a loyalty to the blues and an honesty to his New Orleans heritage, a glimmering undertone throughout each of his solos.  This approach is shared by long-term collaborator and pianist David Nimmo, and impressively echoed by newcomer Mark Lewandowski on double bass.  At times, Jason Marsalis on drums didn’t quite match the dynamic range and sensitivity offered by the rest of the quartet.

Whatever Marsalis’ pre-bedtime ablution regime, is it’s working: he doesn’t seem to have aged by a single day for the last twenty years.  Last night, his ‘Magic Hour’ was a virtuosic masterclass of warmth and creativity.


The first of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival listings at the Barbican are already on sale, here.


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