Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mingus Big Band - Live in Tokyo (Sunnyside, 2006)

Amidst the glut of "ghost bands" and never ending tribute albums, one band has been able to link the glories of the past with the innovation of the future. The Mingus Big Band is now a staple on the contemporary jazz scene, holding down a weekly gig in New York City and touring the world. The band embraces both Mingus veterans and provides an incubator to young jazz talent. This live album was recorded at the Blue Note club in Tokyo. "Wham Bam" opens the disc by channelling the great man with some thundering bluesy swing. "Celia" has the lush melody being belied by the hot horn solos on the inside. "Bird Calls" is blast furnace bebop with torrid saxophone solos and some nice swinging piano over a thumping bass beat. One of Charles Mingus' most famous compositions, "Meditations" opens with a deep bowed bass solo, appropriate for very serious music about the civil rights struggle. A gentle Dolphy-esque flute lifts up over the riffing band. This is a very complex piece of music, but the band plays it well and doesn't miss a beat.

"Prayer for Passive Resistance" has a jump and swing feel with some nice bass playing from Kenny Davis (think there's a little pressure playing bass in this band?) opening up to a medium-boil tenor solo from Wayne Escoffery before the band returns to the swirling, swinging melody. "Free Cell Block F" has kaleidoscopic swing and riffing from the band before some sweet flute breaks free on a light, fleet solo sounding like a butterfly, quite a juxtaposition in a composition about riots at the Attica prison. It's not surprising that "Ecclesiastics" starts with the reading of a familiar passage and a few shouted amens, because Charles Mingus was deeply influenced by gospel music since his childhood, and that influence is felt quite strongly on this composition. A majestic tenor saxophone emerges from the testifying band for a solo before being joined by the other saxophonists as they trade ideas over the bands encouragement. This is a very exciting end to a fine concert. Sue Mingus and the members of the band she manages should be commended for putting together another fine album from one of the bast large ensembles in modern jazz.

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