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The Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra Plays An Die Musik

January 20, 2014
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1604780_10153659329250082_594165360_nOver this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra gave concerts in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington to prepare for Monday’s recording of a new album, Blues for Tahrir. It was a smart way to road test the material before committing it to a hard drive. Saturday’s show at An Die Musik Live was especially important because half the band has ties to Maryland, including the group’s leader, composer, arranger, and bass clarinetist. Wearing a black suit with a reddish crew cut and goatee, Marcus sat in the 11 o’clock position on the semi-circle of six horn players in the front of the stage. The Sandtown community organizer’s father was born in Egypt, and Egyptian themes have always been an undercurrent in his music, but with this new project they rise to the surface.

Marcus, a Christian minister, is clearly fascinated by Islamic musical motifs, and these were prominent in the four-movement suite that gives the new album its title. Marcus spoke to the crowded room of how the protests, victorious fireworks and brutal suppression in Cairo’s Tahrir Square have created a roller coaster of hopes and worries–and that too was reflected in the music.

On Saturday the suite began with “Adhan,” named after the Islamic call to prayer. Marcus’s regular nonet, supplemented by frame drummer Jon Seligman, created its own invitation to meditation with an intriguing ensemble theme. Alto saxophonist Russell Kirk responded to the invitation with a long solo that began quietly and with pauses but built to a fiery finish. This segued into “Tears on the Square,” a mournful lament highlighted by the wordless vowels of Irene Jalenti’s vocal. The third movement, “Reflection,” began with Xavier Davis’s unresolved piano figure that created a tension seized upon by Marcus’s bass clarinet solo which seemed to wrestle with both the optimism and pessimism created by recent events in Egypt. This segued into the final movement, “Protest,” which seemed to blow open the impasse between those positive and negative feelings by demanding freedom in the form of long explosive solos by Marcus, alto saxophonist Brent Birkhead and drummer Eric Kennedy.

Also performing were trumpeter Alex Norris, tenor saxophonist Greg Tardy, trombonist Alan Ferber and bassist Jeff Reed. This week An Die Musik Live offers jazz by Brad Linde & Friends on Tuesday, by Jeff Antoniuk & the Jazz Update on Thursday and by pianist Benito Gonzalez Frid.