Washington's newest (and, sadly, temporary) jazz ensemble is too large to fit inside any of the city's clubs. So it booked the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, which is fitting given that most of the musicians' day jobs are with the National Symphony Orchestra.
Saturday night's concert "Golden Tones of a Golden Age," the final program in the adventurous "Jazz in the Concert Hall" series under the artistic direction of Billy Taylor and conducted with sparky energy by Marin Alsop, continued the exploration of American jazz compositions for orchestra. Taylor made the point that NSO musicians are not strangers to improvised forms; many play in jazz combos during their "offstage lives." Taylor's "Conversations" featured Alsop's violin in a brisk dialogue with the composer at the piano, then tightly segued into solos by bassoon and muffled trombone in the first movement.
Featured clarinet player Eddie Daniels could charm the socks off a snake with his creamy riffles. NSO alumnus David Amram brought a world beat to the stage for two movements from his Triple Concerto for Woodwinds, Brass and Jazz Quintet. Amram's Pakistani flute against the full string section created an aura of Oriental mystery in the second movement, "Rondo a la Turque."
Duke Ellington's "Harlem" strutted the fully awakened horn section over louche and suggestive drags from the reeds. And behind the ample strings, what fun to see the harpist rocking through tempo shifts with gusto.