In ordinary times, the impact of the West Coast premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ exuberantly audacious 1999 work “All Rise” would have been limited to the usual hot debates in the jazz and classical communities about a new Marsalis work. But these are not ordinary times. With Thursday’s performance designated as a memorial to those who lost their lives in Tuesday’s terrorist attacks — and part of the proceeds going to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund — the piece may be forever associated with the tragic event. Then again, this is the kind of bold, multifaceted event that the Hollywood Bowl should be programming more often, one that kicks out the boundaries and makes an impact on our lives.
In the fifth movement as the chorus shouted and wailed “Save us, save us” after some wild percussion rhythms, with lots of Ellingtonian dissonance to follow, a shiver went down some of our backs. This passage hit disturbingly close to home.
Written for symphony orchestra, three choirs and jazz big band, divided into 12 sections grouped in fours in the pattern of the humble 12-bar blues, the 110-minute “All Rise” reflects Mahler’s credo that a symphony should embrace the whole world. It shares many traits with another outsized Marsalis blockbuster, “Blood on the Fields,” with freewheeling eclecticism taking off from a neo-Ellington base, streaks of wildness, outbreaks of Latin American rhythms, and many movements that peter out inconclusively.
Applying the lessons of his “A Fiddler’s Tale,” Marsalis’ first movement is practically an homage to Stravinsky, with ideas repeating in modular cells.
Yet there are also several things in this bewildering stockpot of idioms that we’ve never heard from Marsalis — some highly original sonorities for the choir early on, the darkish timbral influence of Gil Evans, some terrific harmonies for French horns and winds, and pretty good string writing for a first try.
Always the showoff A+ student, Marsalis even attempts a string fugue in the fourth movement — it runs statically in place — but his program note explains its presence: “We discover that we can do things and get carried away.” Really.
Make no mistake, there are plenty of inspired, even deeply moving, moments in this sprawling work — and as he does so often at the Playboy Jazz Festival, Marsalis has the theatrical savvy to end it with a rousing second-line New Orleans jamboree that chases away the blues and leaves ’em shouting. What Marsalis could use most, though, is a good editor.
Already, Esa-Pekka Salonen is beginning to apply some interpretive savvy of his own to several passages — he and Marsalis are recording “All Rise” for Sony Classical — and Marsalis generously passes out solo opportunities to others in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, taking only two himself.