Wynton Marsalis pays tribute to Horace Silver

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A concert of Blue Note classics includes works by the late jazz pianist

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Wynton Marsalis pays tribute to Horace Silver

In a recent stop on their UK tour, jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra spent a substantial part of the evening playing works dedicated to the late jazz pianist Horace Silver (1928-2014). ‘Horace passed away last week so we’re going to play a set dedicated to him,' announced Marsalis, as his 15-piece band embarked on a selection of tunes by the jazz legend.

The tour, which is celebrating the forthcoming 75th anniversary of New York’s Blue Note jazz label, gives a fascinating insight into works by some of the greatest jazz names, with riveting big band arrangements often penned by members of Marsalis’s own band. I caught them at Bristol’s Colston Hall and to see them perform is an education in itself. Marsalis, who often takes a back seat, introduces carefully selected tracks from the label’s history and talks about each track’s historical background. He flits around the 1950s and 1960s selecting music from Blue Note’s heyday and, rather than choosing obvious hits such as Herbie Hancock’s ‘Cantaloupe Island’ or Lee Morgan’s ‘Sidewinder’, goes a little bit off the beaten track. From saxophonist ‘Sweet Papa’ Lou Donaldson’s hard bop ‘Blues Walk’ (1958) to Chick Corea’s complex ‘The Matrix’ (1968), this Bristol audience witnessed a wide range of jazz styles, all delivered with pinpoint precision by the Marsalis band.

The Horace Silver section was a highlight, not just because the pianist’s musical legacy has been in the news recently, but because Marsalis included some slightly lesser-known pieces without going for the obvious ‘Song for My Father’. After the (fairly well-known) Silver composition ‘Senor Blues’, arranged by bassist Carlos Henrique, the band slowed the pace for ‘Peace’ and then played a dazzling version of Silver’s ‘Cape Verdean Blues’. At well over a minute, the thundering drum solo of Ali Jackson sounded like an approaching tropical storm, before the band’s front row, having swapped their saxophones for flutes and piccolos, burst into the sparkling latin-tinged tune. This was a poignant tribute to the great pianist, because, as Marsalis pointed out, Silver had been inspired to write it by the music of his father’s birthplace.

The audience came away having been exposed to a taste of some of Blue Note’s finest music, selected by a jazz master and delivered – it’s fair to say – by one of the finest big bands in the world today.

The Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra will perform at the Barbican on Wednesday 2 July