Music

Mingus Big Band: The Essential Mingus Big Band

John Kenyon

Mingus Big Band

The Essential Mingus Big Band

Label: Dreyfus Jazz
US Release Date: 2001-07-10
UK Release Date: 2001-07-30
Amazon
iTunes

See a band credited to a deceased leader the Benny Goodman Orchestra, for instance and you think old, out-of-touch, lame, boring you get the picture. But that shouldn't be a blanket assessment. The Mingus Big Band, for example, just doesn't fit the bill. The group is everything those other groups known in the jazz world as "ghost bands" are not: young, plugged in, hip, exciting, essential.

So it is with the band's latest disc, itself billed as "essential", The Essential Mingus Big Band, in fact. The disc culls the best tracks from the group's five discs, and the result is a rousing, spirited, living tribute to Charles Mingus, Mingus the composer, Mingus the bandleader, Mingus the performer. It's all about Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, dig?

The 14-piece band, routinely tops polls in jazz magazines like Downbeat, including that magazine's most recent reader's poll big band category. It shows why over the course of the nine cuts on this disc. Sue Mingus, the widow of jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus, formed the group in 1991. The idea was to keep Mingus's music alive after his death in 1979. But, as the liner notes attest, the goal is not nostalgia. This is a working band, one that interprets Mingus's charts in its own way, playing on the strengths of the individual soloists. This succeeds because of the singular vision of Sue Mingus, and also because her love and dedication have rubbed off on the players who pass through this group.

The group brought together to play this music is top notch, a who's who of young and not-so-young jazz talent. Dave Kikoski, Ronnie Cuber, Ryan Kisor, Kenny Drew Jr., Randy Brecker -- the list goes on. They bring an energy and grace to Mingus's tunes that the composer surely would have loved. Some of Mingus's best-known compositions are here, from "Haitian Fight Song" to "Moanin'" to "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat". While the albums containing Mingus's own recordings of these tunes are essential in their own right, their presence in the CD racks make this no less essential.

While the rousing tunes are clear favorites, the slower material allows the band to stretch out and explore, something it does with much zest. "Self Portrait in Three Colors" in particular is such a tune, a graceful blues that in the hands of the players shows Mingus's music wasn't all flash and verve.

Mingus always mixed a bit of politics with his blues (rendered quite ably on the fittingly titled MBB disc Blues and Politics, of course), and the group's take on his "Fables of Faubus" is organized chaos at its best. Joined here with "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting", it rattles on like a protest meeting come to life. The tune, Mingus's indictment of the conduct of Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus during the Little Rock school integration, is as swinging a bit of politicking as you're likely to find.

Elsewhere the group tears through "Eat That Chicken", "Boogie Stop Shuffle", and "Nostalgia in Times Square". While any one or all of the band's discs are worth owning (particularly Live in Time and Blues and Politics), the selection here leaves little room for quibbling. It shows a good cross-section not only of the band's work but also of Mingus's compositional range.

Most "ghost bands" are deadly serious about perfectly recreating their namesake's songs, but the MBB always has played fast and loose with Mingus's songs, interpreting the tunes in a playful manner. It is that playfulness that makes the Mingus Big Band so special. Sure, the players are magnificent, each solo seemingly better than the last. But it is the group's energy that makes it clear they're having as much fun as the listener.

The only thing missing here is Mingus himself, and believe me, he's here in spirit. That word "spirit" in fact, sums up this disc, and is the reason why it is so good.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I Went on a Jewel Bender in Quarantine. This Is My Report.

It's 2020 and everything sucks right now, so let's all fucking chill and listen to Jewel.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.