Letting Jazz Have a Turn Interpreting the Poets
By BEN RATLIFF
Jazz at Lincoln Center did something really self-assured last week. It presented two major large-ensemble pieces by members of its orchestra, neither very well known as composers, for a three-night run at the Rose Theater: “God’s Trombones,” by the trombonist Chris Crenshaw, and “Inferno,” by the saxophonist Sherman Irby.
Each was about the length of an LP and based on a book of poetry. “God’s Trombones” drew on the 1927 work of the same name by James Weldon Johnson, seven connected poems using the rhetoric of the black American church service; “Inferno” drew on Dante. As suites, and in some aspects of arrangement and harmony, they contained the spirit and substance of Duke Ellington. But in other ways they embodied what we can call the Jazz at Lincoln Center impulse: be ambitious, be noble, be narrative, be permanent.
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