The bad news: Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon was conspicuously absent when the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra performed in town over the weekend.
The good news: The big-brass man was heard in two contexts at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Monday night -- as bandleader, fronting his own quartet, and as sideman, accompanying vocalist Vanessa Rubin.
In both settings Gordon's use of a plunger mute proved wonderfully expressive. The rich vocabulary of vocal inflections he developed while playing alongside Wynton Marsalis (in the trumpeter's septet as well as the Lincoln Center orchestra) distinguished several quartet performances with warmth, soul and wit.
His appreciation for the colorations and cadences of early jazz was frequently evident, as were fluid demonstrations of his affection for the music of Duke Ellington ("It Don't Mean a Thing") and John Coltrane ("Impressions"). The concert was further enhanced by Gordon's amusing scat flights and rumbling vocals, which evoked memories of Louis Armstrong, and the alternately subdued and rambunctious support he received from pianist Richard Johnson, bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Alvin Atkinson.
Always a treat to hear, Rubin joined the quartet during both sets, delivering "I've Got the World on a String," "Black Coffee" and other tunes in now-swinging, now-soulful fashion, with Gordon's soft echoes and brass-etched commentaries serving as a sonic foil.
The next time the two collaborate they might want to give more thought to pacing.
The concert, which ran nearly three hours (including a long intermission), clearly suffered from audience attrition.
-- Mike Joyce