By Jim Fusilli
Presented last night at the Rose Theater at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center: Crosby, Stills, Nash and jazz. Led by its artistic director Wynton Marsalis, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra enhanced, re-invented and at times overwhelmed the trio as together they explored a dozen songs familiar to rock fans and maybe some jazz fans too.
In deference to the jazz musicians’ skills, David Crosby described the experience as “getting to play with the bigger kids.” The trio wore dark suits, ties and, said Crosby: “My first pair of grown-up shoes. They have laces.” Graham Nash quipped that Crosby now has a “laces roadie.”
With varying degrees of success, members of the JLCO ensemble and other jazz masters re-arranged the CSN compositions. The folk tunes with fragile spines fared less well, and the brass overwhelmed the vocal harmonies in “Helplessly Hoping” from the trio’s ’69 debut disk. The new charts took the sails out of “Southern Cross,” while the Latin feel assigned to “Long Time Gone,” a form repeated in several new arrangements, pushed the protest tune to the middle of the road.
But new context also provided the impetus for many satisfying moments. Among them: a deft tempo change in “Marrakesh Express” that followed a lively alto-saxophone solo by Sherman Irby; and the cool flutes that served as underpinning to “Déjà Vu” and set up beautifully a bass solo by Rodney Whitaker. The orchestra gave the opening number, “Military Madness,” a big-band swing treatment.
Some of the evening’s best moments came when the trio stepped up in response to the new environment.
On acoustic guitar, Stephen Stills issued a fiery solo in “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” that quoted George Harrison’s “Within You Without You.” Late in the program, Marsalis came downstage to join Crosby and Nash for an affecting “Guinnevere,” a Crosby folk ballad influenced by West Coast cool jazz and once covered by Miles Davis. From high on a perch with the trumpets, Marsalis exchanged glances with Stills that glowed with bemused satisfaction.
The trio seemed delighted by the experience. Crosby danced in place, Stills took several solos that muscled above the thunderous horns, and Nash centered the vocal harmonies. “I think we have time for one more song before Brooks Brothers takes the suits back,” joked Nash, about the band’s provisional on-stage wardrobe.
The concert, the second of two to benefit Jazz at Lincoln Center, is the fourth in a series, following shows in previous years in which Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson and Paul Simon performed with the JLCO. Crosby, Stills & Nash resume their U.S. tour tomorrow night in Orlando, FL.