Boarding the bandstand to a hail of whistles and stand-up applause, Marsalis waited for hush to discuss the legacy of the label, before leading a crisp, triple trumpet fanfare across drummer Ali Jackson’s soft rumble of toms, opening Jackie McLean’s “Appointment In Ghana.”
Curiously, but not surprisingly, given Marsalis’s reputation to always deliver the exotic, it was a show that shunned Blue Note’s sure-fire hits, for choice album tracks such as Wayne Shorter’s ” Fee Fi Fo Fum” (from 1960’s Speak No Evil) and Larry Young’s grooving “Moontrane” (from ’59’s Unity). This didn’t so much sway the audience’s attention, as glue it to the orchestra’s snappy, almost Ellingtonion execution of their deft arrangements.
Some touching tales from Marsalis about his former boss Art Blakey, and the recently-departed Horace Silver, preceded the arrival of the band’s first special guest, leading Brit saxophonist Nathaniel Facey, who, over some light rhythm and brass accompaniment, hung lush, Bird-like figures over Silver’s schmaltzy ballad, “Peace.”
Another of Silver’s, “Señor Blues” called second guest vibraphonist Lewis Wright to the stage. Chasing the tail of an achingly-soulful solo from powerful altoist Sherman Irby, Wright’s own mellow to multi-rhythmic display not only brought the house down, but Marsalis to his feet to applaud the young player.
And the fire kept coming, as tight, spitting trumpets, plungered trombones, high-register sax squeals and a seductive, cowbell-clacking drum groove festooned the gradual flight of Freddie Redd’s “The Thespian.” Elsewhere, a stunning reading of McCoy Tyner’s ballad “Search for Peace”, studded with Paul Nedzela’s lyrical baritone sax momentarily mellowed the mood around the hall until Facey and Wright returned once more to add gust to Joe Henderson’s intense “Inner Urge”.
When Marsalis eventually called time on this dazzling tribute , the embers of a squittery solo he blew over closer “Free For All” still lingered in the air. And with all but his core trio banished from the bandstand, all that was left to do was count off an impromptu blues jam, the impact of which would surpass the roar of applause that earlier greeted this fine band.