A performance by the Uptown Jazz Orchestra is a traveling street parade in the grand tradition of its hometown celebrations, from Mardi Gras to the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Front man and trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis brings the essence of that heritage wherever he and the 15-piece band roam. Thursday night’s stop was the Lied Center for Performing Arts.
Like his older brothers — saxophonist Branford and trumpeter Wynton — Delfeayo brings a scholar’s knowledge of Crescent City music, and jazz history in general, to every appearance. He and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra are capable of negotiating modern rhythmic and harmonic changes while always remaining true to the joyous spirit of the venerable, second-line tradition.
As always, the outfit entered in second-line style, half of the horn section from the back of the hall and the other half from the side entrance. The rhythm section awaited them on stage, setting the tempo and the introduction to Professor Longhair’s classic “Go to the Mardi Gras.” The key soloist was Roger Lewis, baritone saxophonist and founding member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, another New Orleans institution dating to 1977. His presence as the reed section’s front-line anchor is crucial to the Uptown’s rugged, bold sound.
Among other standout soloists and section players were trumpeters John Gray, Andrew Baham and Brice Miller, who also sang on the opener and the celebratory “So New Orleans"; Scott Johnson and Jeronne Ansari on saxophones; and David Pulphus on bass.
“Irish Whisky Blues” featured Marsalis on trombone, and “Dr. Hard Groove” was dedicated to the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove. The band did several tunes by the great Benny Carter, including “The Legend,” “Jackson County Jubilee” and “Mizz Mizzou,” from Carter’s “Kansas City Suite.”
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the outrageous “Raid on the Mingus House Party,” a tribute to the legendary bassist and composer Charles Mingus. It was a controlled cacophony, with solos that paired alto saxophones, followed by trumpet and trombone, in a tune that seemed to echo the notorious Mingus temper and assertiveness.
Near the end of the two-hour performance, Marsalis stepped to the microphone with a Harman-muted trombone, accompanied only by piano, bass and brushes, for a stunning rendition of the ballad “She’s Funny That Way.”
Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra brought a heaping helping of spicy New Orleans fare to Lincoln, for an appreciative audience of about 1,000.