The Mingus Big Band
Review of their gig in Vicar Street, March 29, 2000
If asked to name one of America's most influentialjazz musicians of the twentieth century, the most common responses will be plucked from a predicable list like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker or Duke Ellington. Another name that should be included is Charles Mingus. Born in Arizona in 1922, he was a talented, individualistic bass player who went on to become a band-leader and expert pianist. He was a composer who recorded over one hundred albums and wrote over three hundred scores. Settling eventually in New York, he played with some of the above-mentioned virtuosos throughout the 1950s. These days, his hugely impressive catalogue of work is kept alive by the Mingus Big Band, a New York based collective who took to the stage at Vicar St in a rather understated manner.
Such is the panoramic scope of Mingus' work that the tone of the evening oscillated between soothing and boisterous. The sublimely haunting "Self-Portrait in 3 colours" with its aching echoes of melancholy preceded the frenzied bass-led "Haitian Fight Song". Trombone player Jamal Haynes stepped up to provide vocals for "Oh Lord please don't drop that Atom bomb on me". "This subdues my Passion", a poignant piece given lyrical life by Elvis Costello, was beautifully performed, even if the expectant crowd seemed slightly disappointed at the absence of Mr. Costello himself. One of the highlights was the "Gunslinging Birds" (shortened from the original deferential title "If Charlie Parker was a gunslinger, there'd be a lot of dead copycats").
On the whole the band were quite solid and although the individual show-casing got a little repetitious, the performance was enjoyable. However, I saw more or less the same line-up in their native New York in 1998 and it blew me away. in Vicar Street, they never quite settled down and the sound left a lot to be desired - it appeared as if the instruments themselves were not effectively miked. On the other hand, each soloist demonstrated incredible talent and deftness in their own field, with particular merit due to pianist Kenny Drew Jr. and bassist Andy McKee, the latter having a huge role to fill in the absence of the eponymous band-leader. Not quite their usual New York selves but a rousing and worthy performance nonetheless.
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