Young Stars of Jazz prove worthy of the moniker in a radiant concert at Bryant Park
There has always been a special place in jazz for the alignment of poise and precocity that marks a serious talent on the rise. But that combination of traits took on a life of its own some 40 years ago, as the world registered the emergence of a hotshot trumpeter from the New Orleans, by the name of Wynton Marsalis.
Chances are, you know this story — and can even recall how it paved the way for the generation that followed, which an eager record industry branded the Young Lions. All these years later, that history still reverberates through the music and reception of a group like Young Stars of Jazz, whose members weren't even born when Marsalis helped sow the seeds for Jazz at Lincoln Center in 1987.
What's past is prologue, as Shakespeare put it, and Young Stars of Jazz — a group cultivated by Marsalis, in his dual capacities at JALC and Juilliard — embodies the faithful continuation of a legacy. It hardly seems an accident that when the ensemble convened this summer for Bryant Park Picnic Performances, the set opened with "One By One" — a Wayne Shorter tune that Marsalis used to carve up as a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Or that the following selection, "Twelve's It," is a signature piece by the late New Orleans pianist Ellis Marsalis, Wynton's father.
But the concert, which WBGO is proud to present here, reveals much more than historical reenactment. The members of Young Stars of Jazz have already separately demonstrated their dynamism, along with the freedom they find within the jazz tradition.
Pianist Isaiah J. Thompson, who plays the heck out of "Twelve's It," received a Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award in 2018, the same year he was a runner-up in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Bassist Endea Owens, another Emerging Artist awardee, was recently profiled by Jazz Night in America — as was tenor saxophonist Julian Lee, in a touching episode he shared with his father.
Alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino, who has been a recent fixture in Take Five (and performed live at WBGO with the collective Lioness), wrote one of the set's explosive highlights, a pandemic-era post-bop exhortation she titled "A Race Against Yourself." Owens has a tune in the set, too: a slippery workout aptly titled "Cycles." And Thompson's contribution, "The Cakewalk Dilemma," plants a flag in the conversation about Black American Music, with swinging brio. Trumpeter Anthony Hervey and drummer Kyle Poole round out the ensemble, bringing boundless energy and expertise.
Jazz at Lincoln Center, which co-presented this concert with Bryant Park Picnic Performances, reopens this week for its 2021-2022 season. It so happens that the flagship season opener is Wynton at 60, a special retrospective featuring Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (and a few combos partly pulled from its ranks).
Young Stars of Jazz also appears on Friday, Nov. 19, at Dizzy's Club.
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