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(ph: LJW)

Jazz in the Key of Ellison

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia

April 14, 2022

Jazz in the Key of Ellison

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia

April 14, 2022

 ‘Jazz In The Key Of Ellison’ is a concert production conceived in 2016 at the New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts and the Andy Farber Jazz Orchestra is back on tour in Verizon Hall for one night only performance on April 14.

Ralph Ellison’s novel ‘Invisible Man’ confronted mid-20th century racism in the country and remains a groundbreaking novel in the pantheon of social justice literature, which has inspired generations. Ellison also wrote about jazz, its musical importance to American arts, and about its cultural significance for Black America. An accomplished trumpeter himself, Ellison was very much part the jazzworld of Armstrong, Basie, Ellington, Gillespie, Monk, et. al. and the defining genres reflecting the African American diaspora that spoke to people of color and their communities in the US.

The Andy Farber Jazz Orchestra, with vocalists Quiana Lynell, Lizz Wright, and the legendary Nona Hendryx along with actor-singers Andre DeShields, Carl Hancock Rux and Ellison scholar Robert O’Meally performed ‘Jazz in the Key of Ellison‘ structured in two hour long sets for a beautifully conceived concert of music and inspiring words of Ralph Ellison, delivered by the narrators between the numbers.

Here are a few random highlights

Verizon Hall was just a little more half full but those of who were there knew just a few bars into the orchestra’s rendition of Count Basie’s ‘Jumpin’ at the Woodside’ this was going to be a jazz night to remember.

From that dancehall classic, vocalist Quiana Lynell’s interpreted the Fats Waller song ‘ Black & Blue’ made world famous by Louis Armstrong, which vamps the blues lament via Armstrong’s mocking sincerity, as it confronts the face of American racism. Controversial in its time in, it still conjures many disturbing tropes of its era, meanwhile Lynell’s soaring operatic jazz vocal, up and down the scale, laced with scat ala Louis, It is followed by a screening of the historic film of Armstrong performing it at an embassy event in Ghana in 1956.

Later Quiana Lynell drove mighty high & low notes into the stratosphere for Oscar Brown, Jr.’s  ‘Chain Gang’ with trumpeter Randy Brecker picking up the afterburn in a solo and pianist Zack Hyde driving it home in roadhouse slide piano style.

Sauntering onstage in a red lace, bell-bottom ensemble ala her days with LaBelle, Nona Hendryx launched into the Coots/Gillespie 30s standard ‘You Go to My Head. Took the first verse to find her footing, almost speaking the lyrics, but then gave a tour de force vocal like no one else. But it was a house down moment for her smoldering version of Nina Simone’s ‘Mississippi Goddamn.’   Hendryx’s owning Ray Charles’ low down blues belter “I Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town

Jazz stylist Lizz Wright sang 40s style of big band singers for Ellington’s ‘In a Mellow Tone. Then with pianist Zack Hyde hypnotized with their version of Hoagie Carmichael’s ‘Stardust.’  Wright brings everything in its lyrical magic and vocal control. Randy Brecker solo at the end making it all the more ‘a timeless ‘haunting melody.’ Wright also performed a medley of Fred Parris’s  In the Still of The Night that segues in the Jonny Green/Edward Heyman atmospheric classic ‘ I Cover the Waterfront.’ highlighted by the Jennifer Vincent’s atmospheric solo on double bass.

Deep vocal qualities, and impeccable phrasing all her own, finished out with Brecker’s noirish trumpet solo. Later, Wright is vocally radiant on Mongo Santamaria ‘Afro Blue’ backed by a lushly quiet arrangement (after John Coltrane).

Throughout this concert the Andy Farber Orchestra- Andy Farber on sax, Willie Applewhite (trombone); Courtney Wright (baritone sax); Bruce Williams (altosax) Anthony Hervey (trumpet); Randy Brecker (trumpet); Alvester Garnet (drums); Zack Hyde (piano)

Alto Saxophonist Bruce Williams soulful, solo on Ellington’s ‘Jeep’s Blues’ and its brilliant ascent with Ellington’s majestic jazz crescendos, the musicians make this one a symphonic blues barnburner for the ages.