Sunday, April 5, 2020

Album Review: The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra- Rock Chalk Suite

The men’s basketball team representing the University of Kansas was ranked No. 1 when the coronavirus outbreak prematurely ended its season.  The Jayhawks were denied a shot at winning the national championship, but music-loving Jayhawk fans can take comfort in a similarly rarified achievement.

Rock Chalk Suite, a recording by The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, was released on March 20.  The project was “commissioned to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Lied Center of Kansas, KU’s performing arts center.”  Each of the 15 original compositions honors a Kansas basketball standout.  The Lied Center provides the “stories behind the songs”.

The hyper-partisan Kansas alumni who make their allegiance an integral component of their identities should be shouting the good news from their rooftops.  Yet I haven’t heard one of them boast about Rock Chalk Suite.  KU boosters aren’t alone in ignoring the recording.  One of four albums released by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in the first quarter of 2020, Rock Chalk Suite has been roundly ignored by the general public and the jazz media.

The neglect is unmerited.  Most of the unflaggingly swinging selections are immediately engaging.  Wynton Marsalis and his all-star ensemble sound fully committed to honoring Kansas’ basketball tradition on Ellingtonian selections like “Passing Game.”  Only three tracks contain overt references to basketball, making Rock Chalk Suite a largely unjarring experience for supporters of Kansas adversaries like Duke and Missouri. 

Switching out Luther Vandross’ “One Shining Moment” for the Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra’s Rock Chalk Suite may not placate devotees of sports, but for many jazz fans in Kansas and throughout the world, it’s an even trade.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

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