The concert ‘Free to Be’ revolves around freedom, its joys, and its sorrows. The big band arrangement does the hard bop justice and sounds American to the core. The concert asks the listener to consider what freedom means to them and the people around them, and what it took to earn that freedom. The concert features different moods that the 1960’s jazz can evoke, and is excellently paced.
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Despite the themes and the context in which the music was written, it might sound like a richly-arranged piece of Americana to the casual listener. On the trumpet, Kenny Rampton provides a lush and evocative sound during the Second Movement of the Freedom Suite, and Vincent Gardner on the trombone creates a feeling of muted elegance. The concert’s pace regularly moves the listener from a smoky backroom with the sly piano sound and the luxurious brass into a high-energy frantic trumpet solo and back again. Sherman Irby steps in during the Fourth Movement with his smoother saxophone to calm the nerves after the trumpet’s danger and intensity, only to escalate again.
The performers interact like a well-oiled mechanism, adding to and subtracting from each other to convey the themes of the concert. The Fifth Movement’s sax dialogue between Ted Nash and Paul Nedzela evoked the imagery of a heated debate, with both sides casting smug looks at each other after a particularly piercing comment, and the rest of the saxophone section having a blast watching the exchange from the sidelines. Fables of Faubus were well-synergized, but the vocals were intentionally disjointed and difficult to distinguish at times, serving as a mean-spirited and well-deserved ridicule of the anti-Civil Rights Movement officials and Klansmen by the voices oft-ignored. The Second Movement of The Happiness of Being shows that there is no freedom without tenseness by muting every instrument other than percussion for an extended period.
Free to Be is an excellently crafted and performed piece of art that feels entirely improvised at times. It deals with difficult topics and reminds the listener that American history was not always happy nor comfortable. It does, however, also remind everyone that something beautiful has come of it all. Perhaps, jazz is one of the best genres of music to explore themes of freedom and self-expression. Free to Be should not be passed up by anyone who enjoys their music unplugged.
“Full Concert: Free to Be (Jazz of the 1960s) — Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.” YouTube, uploaded by Jazz at Lincoln Center, 2020, Web.