SF Gate        www.sfgate.com        Return to regular view

A virtual buffet of American music
In Marsalis' 'All Rise,' the whole is less than the individual segments
Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
Friday, November 22, 2002
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle.

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/11/22/DD201554.DTL&type=music

Click to View

It's impossible not to like "All Rise," the enormous musical smorgasbord by composer and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis that occupied Wednesday's San Francisco Symphony program in Davies Symphony Hall -- if only for statistical reasons. If a particular episode is not to your taste, you just have to wait a few minutes and something else is sure to come along that is.

Marsalis' jazz-classical hybrid, composed in 1999 for the New York Philharmonic, is in 12 movements and includes nearly two hours' worth of music in all sizes and shapes, all styles and moods and colors.

Written for a combination of orchestra, jazz ensemble, chorus and vocal soloists, "All Rise" is an exuberant testimony not only to the multifarious nature of American music but also to Marsalis' seemingly inexhaustible ability to master every strain of it.

Before the piece is over, Marsalis regales his audience with field shouts and funeral music, waltzes and sambas, blues and hoedowns and Dixieland and gospel and swing and spirituals and fugues and who knows what-all. There's something here for everyone -- and then some.

Yet if most of the individual segments in "All Rise" inspire delight and even exhilaration, the piece's cumulative effect is wearying. Marsalis' breathlessly encyclopedic tour through a century's worth of musical styles makes a good polemic about the indivisibility of the artistic impulse, but it produces a fitful, unfocused work of art.

Listening to "All Rise" is like chowing down at some five-star Automat -- every course is delicious, but it never seems like an actual meal.

As a result, the piece's most profoundly satisfying moments come when Marsalis is at his least omnivorous. A movement called "Wild Strumming of Fiddle," for instance, in which the orchestra's strings romp through a country hoedown, sets out to do just one thing and does it comprehensively.

Similarly, the various Latin and Afro-Cuban dance grooves that make up "El 'Gran' Baile de la Reina" are so smoothly integrated that the entire movement seems to swing with assurance from beginning to end.

More often, though, the music proceeds by fits and starts, segueing without so much as a rhythmic transition from one mood and musical style to another.

Marsalis' attempts to fuse his various performing forces are equally hit-or- miss, and again, "All Rise" works less well when the orchestral and jazz musicians are in conversation than when each group does its respective thing and stays out of the other's way.

It was wonderful, certainly, to hear the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, with its superbly tight ensemble playing punctuated by dazzling improvisatory flights from individual members (Marsalis' brilliantly forceful solo at the end of the movement "Save Us" most notably). And Vance George's Symphony Chorus was in fine form, singing with plenty of power and rhythmic freedom.

In the end, though, the best thing was to give up any hopes of cohesiveness or logic and simply to appreciate each distinct episode as it came.

The conductor was Steven Sloane, making an inconclusive Symphony debut. In the first few movements, he seemed to have trouble establishing a beat that the performers could follow; the opening "Jubal Step" in particular was a rhythmic mess. Things cohered thereafter, although he never gave the impression that he was giving the music all the rhythmic fluency it needed.

E-mail Joshua Kosman at jkosman@sfchronicle.com.

©2002 San Francisco Chronicle.   Page D - 3