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Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus…

October 29, 2013

Duly made the planned trio of gigs last week, and have written about Paloma Faith and Guy Barker’s mega-orchestra elsewhere.  The second, taking in the early sets from Zoe Rahman’s trio and from Christine Tobin in the agreeable surroundings of Cafe jazz in Cardiff was undeniably lower key, but equally enjoyable. It was great to hear some of Tobin’s Yeats’ settings, especially – they are superb on the CD, but even better live, and the set had the bonus of some Leonard Cohen and her earlier setting of a lyric by Eva Salzman as well as fantastic cello from Kate Short.

The week’s highlight, though, was undoubtedly the Mingus Big Band at Ronnie Scott’s on Friday night. Unlike Cafe Jazz, you only get one show for your money, but what a show!

I’ve always loved Mingus’ music, and it is important that there are revivals and repertory bands to keep it alive. Chris Biscoe’s group does excellent Mingus shows.  Bristol has an occasional medium-sized Mingus ensemble of its own. But the Mingus Big Band is the one. As bassist Boris Kozlov says by way of introduction, “We’re the Mingus Big Band from New York”. It just sounds right.

So does the band. The often noted irony is that the man himself hardly ever had a big band to work with, and when he did it was usually playing after copyists worked against the clock to furnish the scores and with way too little rehearsal time. But that’s surely happened to plenty of other composers. The consequence, though, is that we now get to hear some amazing music, much of it only performed in small groups, arranged for the full band.

Although the personnel shifts and shimmers, there are some fixed points. Ronnie Cuber has been playing baritone since the beginning, I think, certainly since the mid-1990s. Earl Macintyre on tuba provided a direct link with Mingus himself. Kozlov has been doing bass duties for a good while, and does the intros graciously. Tommy Campbell – once Sonny Rollins’ drummer – is on a Mingus band recording from ’96, and here he is again…  The horn section has accommodated dozens of great players over the years, and this one was well up to scratch.

Two reviews I’ve seen – here, and here  – reflect the same set. We heard the other one, which went like this (ADD: and another review of the night we attended here) .  They are fearsomely difficult charts – Both Little Royal Suite (for Roy Eldredge) and Meditation for a Pair of Wire Cutters must be really hard to bring off, but they do it as naturally as breathing. Last year, they played a different selection again. Next year (I hope) they’ll reshuffle their now huge book and bring some other pieces from the great man’s oeuvre alive again. This music deserves to be heard for a long, long time: glorious stuff.

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