It was ambitious to schedule a jazz show as the Greek Theatre's season finale.
But it may have been less the fear of a chilly November night than a sky full of smoke and a weekend of tragedy that kept more music fans from showing up Sunday for the outdoor amphitheater's final night of performances with Brad Mehldau, Ellis Marsalis and McCoy Tyner.
The 69-year-old Tyner, whose latest album, "Guitars," is dotted with collaborators such as Derek Trucks and Bill Frisell, added six-string gadfly Marc Ribot to his touring lineup for this performance.
While Ribot often flexes an aggressively atonal side on albums such as his recent "Party Intellectuals," here he blended with Tyner's trio beautifully, adding a touch of Eastern raga to Tyner's "Ballad for Aisha," while elsewhere his biting guitar bore a Latin shade that offered an engaging counterpoint to Tyner's rich tone.
It was only when Ribot hung back in the mix that the set's energy occasionally flagged, as in a lovely if somewhat staid reading of Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone." But celebrated former Coltrane sideman Tyner snapped the crowd back to life with his turbulent solo at the song's end.
The evening's other elder statesman, Marsalis also benefited from a strong backing band, buoyed by offspring Delfeayo and youngest son Jason, who offered such hyperkinetic yet nimble work on his drum kit that he slowly drove his riser across the stage with every blow to his kick drum.
Trombonist Delfeayo, resplendent in a slick gray suit, added a rollicking New Orleans flair to the quintet's lively take on Thelonious Monk's "Teo." When he got his own time in the spotlight at the evening's close, however, the Marsalis clan's elegant patriarch left no doubt where his sons learned their smooth, lyrical approach.
Opener Mehldau set the evening's tone with a delicately filigreed solo set that at times drew from a more classical-oriented approach. His playing is still equal parts challenging and bewitching, and his haunting, occasionally dissonant cover of Nick Drake's "River Man" was one of the evening's standouts.
As his spotlighted piano rang across the amphitheater, it was impossible not to notice the reverent hush that had fallen over the Greek, and for a moment the weekend's smoke-choked sky finally seemed to clear as a few stars shined through for one last post-summer night.
Barton is a Times staff writer
Brad Mehldau, Ellis Marsalis and McCoy Tyner at the Greek Theatre
Brad Mehldau, Ellis Marsalis and McCoy Tyner play memorable sets at the Greek.
« Previous Story More Topic pages Next Story »
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
The Baltimore Sun encourages civil dialogue related to our stories; you must register and log-in to our site in order to participate. We reserve the right to remove any user and to delete comments that violate our Terms of Service. By commenting, you agree to these terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.