Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra – Fire of the Fundamentals (1994)

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by Nick DeRiso

While it doesn’t have the cohesiveness of 1992’s “Portraits of Ellington,” this makes its own kind of statement.

The playlist is an evocative pairing of older, traditional big-band selections by composers like Billy Strayhorn, with more modern tunes from Miles, Monk and Coltrane. In that way, the CD nearly mirrors the band’s own makeup.

First, we have a pride of young lions: Marcus Roberts (then newly named musical director) is featured both alone as a member of Wynton Marsalis’ group. More experienced finger-snapping is provided by the late Betty Carter and Jimmy Heath, of the middle aged school.

Finally, the release is rounded out by some of the forefathers — Jay McShann (whose group was for a time, considered second only to the Basie band) and Milt Grayson, a really fine singer.

“Fire of the Fundamentals,” then, is an in-depth, kicky look at the center’s wide personnel swath and the orchestra’s varied repertoire.

One of the chanciest pieces here, Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches” as envisioned by the Marsalis septet, is the closest the record comes to stumbling. Marsalis, while he clearly has a handle on the sheet music, is missing the point. What’s important to remember about Miles is that — even in his coolest, long-note solitude — he had a ferocity of vision. He had, well, FIRE.

The glimmer on this tune, appearing like a moth around the porch light, is Roberts. He simply has a commanding grasp of both Bill Evans’ lyricism and finesse, and Herbie Hancock’s vaguely ribald blues tinge. They’re both here.

Carter’s offering is a high point: “You’re Mine You,” with all the usual joys of her elastic vocalizing, is made more murky and great by the expert backing of pianist Cyrus Chestnut and his trio. (For a hearty look at this young man’s quickly evolving jazz vision, begin with “Revelation,” one of his early records on Atlantic.)

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