Kevin Mahogany: Pussy Cat Dues
Not since the 1979 effort of Joni Mitchell has a top vocalist taken on the daunting task of recording the music of Charles Mingus. In 1995, Kevin Mahogany was invited by the Cologne-based Bill Dobbins-directed WDR big band (Westdeutscher Rundfunk) to participate in live concert of Mingus music. For this important musical event, Mahogany is joined by ex-Mingus compatriots, alto saxophonist Charles McPherson and trombonist Jimmy Knepper, as well as the big band. Although the concert took place in 1995, it wasn't until July of 2000 that the album was released. After a listen, it's a shame the moguls of the record industry took their time in releasing it.
Listening to Mingus allows one to sample just about everything on the jazz menu. Mingus looked everywhere for his inspiration as he composed some of the most multifaceted music in jazz. It incorporates the blues, free jazz, swing, bop and, of course, reflects the influence of his idol Duke Ellington. Mahogany's command of vocal techniques combined with his visceral feel for the music makes this album the vocalist's best effort to date The task is eased considerably by the way Dobbin crafted his orchestrations to complement Mahogany's approach this music. Despite the presence of this high powered, well-oiled big band, at no time is Mahogany drowned out - quite an achievement. Knepper's smoothed and sometimes clipped toned trombone is heard to excellent advantage on Eclipse as he and McPherson trade choruses on Reincarnation of a Love Bird. Knepper worked with Mingus from 1957 to 1962 and McPherson played for him in 1965. So they are no strangers to the idiosyncracies of Mingus music.
For me the highlight of the session is the four song medley which shows off the distinct flavor of the bassist's compositions. Boogie Stop Shuffle, featuring McPherson's alto, is a swinging tribute to bop. Jelly Roll honors the genius of Jelly Roll Morton while perhaps his most famous piece of music, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, remains a fervent musical eulogy to Lester Young. While Kevin Mahogany does a couple of choruses on that tune along with some wordless vocalizing on Better Git Hit in Your Soul, the medley is pretty much the property of MacPherson, Knepper and the big band. WDR bassist and American expatriate John Goldsby puts on the mantle of Charles Mingus as he plays a lengthy, intricate and compelling bass solo.
Pussy Cat Dues is a completely fulfilling 55 minutes of music. When the Grammy nominations for 2000 are being contemplated, I urge this one be looked at long and hard.
Tracks:Eclipse; Pussy Cat Dues; Portrait; Reincarnation of a Love Bird; Mingus Medley: Boogie Stop Shuffle, Jelly Roll, Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat, Better Git Hit in Your Soul; Tonight at Noon
Personnel: Kevin Mahogany - Vocals; Charles McPherson - Alto Saxophone; Jimmy Knepper - Trombone; Dennis Mackrel - Drums; WDR Big Band: Bill Dobbins - Director; Andy Haderer, Rob Bruynen, Klaus Osterloh, Rick Kiefer, John Marshall - Trumpet; Dave Horfer, George Maus, Bernt Laukamp, Peter Feil - Trombone; Heiner Wiberny, Harald Rosenstein - Alto Saxophone; Olivier Peters, Rolf R