June 14, 2024
Live in Tokyo
Mingus Big Band
(Sunnyside – 2006)
Staff

This release showcases the exhilarating Mingus Big Band launching into newly arranged compositions from the Mingus songbook at a New Year’s Eve concert at the Blue Note. Continuing the Mingus tradition of great difficulty yielding great rewards, the last-minute replacement of new father and bassist Boris Kozlov (who was to debut two new arrangements) by Kenny Davis (who had never played with the band, and who stepped in seamlessly) is testament not only to the musicians’ talents, but to the strength of the music itself.

The 14-piece big band – comprising trumpeters Eddie Henderson, Jack Walrath and Alex Sipiagin; saxophonists Abraham Burton, Craig Handy, Wayne Escoffery, Seamus Blake, and Ronnie Cuber; trombonists Ku-umba Frank Lacy, Conrad Herwig and Earl McIntyre; pianist Dave Kikoski; bassist Kenny Davis; and drummer Johnathan Blake – buoyantly give new voice to such Mingus classics as “Meditations” and “Ecclusiastics,” from the ’60s, “Opus 4” and “Free Cell Block 8” from the early ’70s, and such early ’50s-era tunes as “Celia,” “Bird Calls” and “Wham Bam,” which opens the CD with characteristic Mingus Big Band explosive energy.

When talking about the legacy band’s weekly New York club dates, Sue commented that her husband would have “given his eye teeth to compose for musicians of this caliber week after week, though he rarely had the opportunity to work with such a large group.” But through the posthumous Epitaph concerts (in the 80s and coming again in 2007), and through Mingus’s enormous compositional legacy, today’s musicians have the opportunity to continue his creative process and, through these recordings, listeners have a privileged entry to the dialogue. Mingus may not be shouting from the bandstand or dismissing them for “mental tardiness” but his music continues to inspire musicians to heights of individual artistry through the power and longevity of his compositions.

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