If Thursday night’s program by the Minnesota Orchestra’s new artistic director of jazz, Irvin Mayfield, is any indication, we are in for some flights of stellar musicianship and a wee bit of frustration. The musicianship is a lock, since Mayfield is one of the finest jazz trumpet players in the country, and all his friends are among the best on their respective instruments. He hangs with a crowd that can play. The frustration has to do with the unruly acoustics of Orchestra Hall, which are ideal for the orchestra itself, but tend to get boomy and mushy as soon as anyone plugs in an amplifier.
Or, as was the case with the Rebirth Brass Band—a highly regarded ensemble that’s been playing New Orleans street music together for twenty-five years—the boom and mush of the room all but destroyed their raucous set. Even without microphones, the hall had a tough time containing the jubilant wailing of the band’s two trumpets, trombone, saxaphone, tuba, and two drums. This is supposed to be loose, wild music, but there was so much sound bouncing around when the Rebirth boys were in high gear that it started to sound a little too loose and wild—more like a bunch of chaotic banging and blaring. In this case, acoustic justice was not served. RBB would have been better off playing on Peavey Plaza.
Irvin Mayfield’s own group, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra AllStars, had much more success getting the hall’s acoustics to behave. It wasn’t perfect, but on songs like “All of Me,” and a spectacular tribute to jazz great Sidney Bouchet by clarinetist Evan Christopher, the blend was perfect. Christopher is the most gifted clarinetist to stand on the stage at Orchestra Hall since Branford Marsalis, and both he and Mayfield could be counted upon to kick just about every tune into fifth gear. Mayfield was particularly entertaining during a bluesy, sultry rendition of St. James Infirmary, which Mayfield introduced by saying, “New Orleans is the only place in the world where we have so much fun, people want to go there to die. This song is about that.”
Special guest, soul woman Irma Thomas, capped off the show with three tunes—“River is Waiting,” “This Bitter Earth,” and here signature song, “It’s Raining”—and everyone got back onstage for a rousing, albeit obligatory, sing-along to the Cajun standard, “Aiko Aiko,” a Mardi Gras staple.
While all of this was going on, there was supposed to be a flash mob at the Walker Art Center at 8 p.m. last night. Did anyone go—and if so, what happened? Those of us who were in Orchestra Hall would like to know.