Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Marsalis Weaves Bloody History into Jazz Opus

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Marsalis Weaves Bloody History into Jazz Opus

Article excerpt

A 14-piece orchestra with a violin soloist and three singers handling four roles. A three-hour opus tackling such issues as the tragedy of slavery in America, the meaning of freedom and the essence of soul.

A libretto filtering its themes through the relationship of one man and one woman. And music that weaves traditions from African percussion and chants to blues, gospel and jazz.

Those certainly sound like the ingredients of a 20th-century opera or a Broadway musical. But at Powell Hall Thursday evening, those were the elements of "Blood on the Fields," a jazz composition with music and libretto by Wynton Marsalis, performed by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and a trio of outstanding vocalists under the direction of Marsalis. The combination of excellent musicianship, emotive vocals and a compelling theme in this performance of "Blood on the Fields did much more than keep the attention of the audience. By the finale, the crowd was standing and clapping in rhythm as the performers paraded single file off the stage. Cassandra Wilson, whose crossover recordings "Blue Light 'Til Dawn" and "New Moon Daughter" have gained her enormous appreciation beyond the usual jazz audience, played the role of Leona, an African woman captured and transported to America by slave traders. Miles Griffith, a former member of the Boys Choir of Harlem, portrayed Jesse, an African prince captured and sold to the same plantation as Leona. Jon Hendricks, known for his scat singing with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, performed two roles - a slave buyer and Juba, a wise man who counsels Jesse. The story follows Jesse's transformation from a prince (and former slave owner in Africa) who regards freedom as his personal right to a man who recognizes the larger truth that "If one man be a prince, then another be a slave. …

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