This week, let's take a look at "Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration," the extended work composed by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis that currently is on tour and scheduled for a St. Louis stop next Friday, October 18 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
Premiered in 2008 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church, "Abyssinian" incorporates a range of musical styles, from spirituals to hard bop, and has been re-staged this year as a traveling production featuring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Chorale Le Chateau, a 70-voice gospel choir.
The production's stop here, presented by Jazz St. Louis, is part of a tour that began October 3 in North Carolina and will conclude on October 27 in Boston. The touring version of "Abyssinian" reportedly is costing an estimated $2 million to mount and requires four buses just to transport the cast, plus a separate truck for equipment.
With so much at stake, it's no surprise that Jazz at Lincoln Center is putting considerable effort and resources into promoting the tour, including the creation of a short promotional video, which you can see in the first embedded window up above.
Down below, there's an interview with Marsalis and choir director Damien Sneed, in which they discuss the tour and the musical and historical significance of "Abysssinian." Below that, there's another short clip featuring Sneed, one of several he made explaining some of the gospel traditions and tropes incorporated into the work. (You can view all the clips in a playlist on Jazz at Lincoln Center's YouTube page.)
The remaining three videos offer a sneak peek at the actual touring production of "Abyssinian." Totaling slightly more than 14 minutes running time, they were recorded by an audience member on October 6 at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and posted to YouTube.
While there's a noticeable lack of bass that renders the audio in these clips somewhat compromised, the fidelity otherwise is reasonably good, and they're the best examples of actual performances from the tour currently available online.
For more about "Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration," check out the interview that Marsalis and Jazz St. Louis' Gene Dobbs Bradford did this past Friday on KWMU's program "Cityscape," which can be heard online here.