in performance: wycliffe gordon with the lexington philharmonic

wycliffe gordon. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

wycliffe gordon. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

Just before launching into the gleeful charge of Hallelujah Shout, a robust display of swing and instrumental sparring, Wycliffe Gordon sized up the spirit of the crowd before him with a level of playfulness that reflected the mood of the musical fireworks about to unfold. In short, the celebrated trombonist who now calls Lexington home offered this reasoning incase the Keeneland audience on hand for the first of a two-night Picnic with the Pops engagement with the Lexington Philharmonic wasn’t enjoying itself: “It’s probably your fault.”

With that, Gordon and his International All-Stars quintet rode a tide of gospel-esque swing that had the bandleader juggling two distinct duet patterns. One centered on vaudevillian vocal scatting with drummer Alvin Atkinson, Jr. where the latter clearly emerged the victor. The other was an instrumental duel with Gordon’s trombone sass working off the tenor sax torrents of Australian native Adrian Cunningham.

The program was titled Night on Bourbon Street: A Tribute to Louis Armstrong, but leaned more to the first half of that billing with tunes by Fats Waller, Hoagy Carmichael and Gordon himself fortifying the repertoire. Armstrong’s joyous imprint on this music – whether it was a distant reference or a generous nod to his interpretations of the compositions – was continually evident in animated breaks Gordon offered on trombone and, more sparingly, on trumpet. But Cunningham and Israeli pianist Ehud Asherie proved strong and distinct collaborators by playing That Old Feeling with ultra cool elegance. The two also teamed for a muscular yet agile duet reading of Chinatown, My Chinatown.

The Philharmonic and conductor Scott Terrell may have seemed like they were operating in support mode given the heavy focus placed on Gordon’s arrangements and performance. But both nicely adapted to the program’s theme by starting the concert’s second set with a reading of the W.C. Handy staple Saint Louis Blues that was full of lightly hued blues and colorful detail. It was also a blast to watch the orchestra’s principal trombonist, Andrew Duncan, step fully into jazz territory for duets with Gordon during a pair of original works, Somebody New and What You Dealin’ With.

The latter tune offered the Philharmonic in an atypically groove-conscious setting by complimenting the broadly contemporary strokes Gordon used to embellish the evening’s party feel. This was truly when the Pops went pop.

Picnic at the Pops Presents Night on Bourbon Street: A Tribute to Louis Armstrong featuring Lexington Philharmonic with Wycliffe Gordon and his International All-Stars will be presented again tonight at 8:30 p.m.. Gates open at 6 p.m. at the Meadow at Keene Barn, Keeneland. Tickets: $15-$300. Call (859) 233-3535 or go to

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