The legacy of the artistic genius of bassist/composer/bandleader Charles Mingus continues its viability nearly a quarter century after his untimely death. Through the creative vision of his widow Sue Mingus, conductor/arranger Gunther Schuller, arrangers Robbie Cuber, Jack Walrath, Sydney Johnson, and the cadre of New York jazz musicians associated with the Mingus Big Band and Charles Mingus Orchestra, Charles Mingus' music continues to intellectually provoke and intrigue listeners.
The newest installment by the Mingus Big Band, Tonight at Noon: Three or Four Shades of Love showcases the romantic side of Charles Mingus' musical opera. Released in April, the same month in which Mingus would have been 80 years old, this CD is a great jazz big band recording in its own right, regardless of any association with Mingus' music. The CD is full of the elements that make a great big band performanceenergetic driving tunes, exciting and creative improvised solos, and sophisticated arrangements that are complex, and aurally compelling. The timbrel palette is also enlarged with the debut of the Charles Mingus Orchestra on four of the CD's tunes, "Noon Night," "Tonight at Noon," "Eclipse," and "Invisible Lady." "Invisible Lady" features the vocal talents of Elvis Costello who also wrote the lyrics for Mingus' composition.
The recording opens with an arrangement of "Love is a Dangerous Necessity," featuring trumpet and saxophone solos by Randy Brecker and Craig Handy. "Noon at Night" is a colorful ballad that includes double timing and other rhythmic twists familiar in Mingus' music. The third tune "Tonight at Noon" also has familiar Mingus flair with the underpinning of a bass riff that is passed to the piano to supply foundation for the reeds playing the head. There are again great trumpet and alto saxophone solos, and drummer Jonathan Blake also includes a tasteful solo. On the tune "Eclipse," the listener is drawn not only to the sensitive introduction played by Adam Rogers on acoustic guitar, but also to the arrangers' ingenious use of Michael Rabinowitz's bassoon, adding a voice not frequently heard in jazz. Rabinowitz also improvises a creative and interesting solo followed by another beautiful solo by guitarist Rogers.
The outstanding feature of "Passions of a Woman Loved," perhaps the centerpiece of the 10 selections on the CD, is that the composition is a rhythmic and metric chameleon. Through various turns of ingenious music wit, modulating through straight ahead swinging, slow ballad, jazz waltz and Latin rhythms the listener is presented with a delightful listening challenge. After the rhythmic workout of "Passions of a Woman Loved," "Sweet Sucker Dance" is a beautiful down tempo ballad featuring an incredible saxophone solo. The down-home, gospelish side of Mingus is evident in the band's interpretation of "Devil Woman," featuring Frank Lacy's soulful delivery of the tune's lyric. On another ballad, "Love's Fury," the baritone saxophone of Ronnie Cuber is featured. Cuber deftly handles the various time and feel changes while weaving an aesthetically satisfying solo. Perhaps the showpiece of the recording is the nearly 17 minute long arrangement of "Black Saint and Sinner Lady." The piece is a pastiche of different tempi, exploitations of various tone colors, dramatic dissonances, confluences of counterpoint, and great solo efforts by a number of band members, in particular the segments featuring pianist David Kikoski.
Tonight at Noon: Three or Four Shades of Love is a high quality, well performed example of modern big band jazz, and would be an excellent addition to any jazz CD collection. For devotees of the music of Charles Mingus this recording is an indispensable "must-have."
Track Listing: Love is a Dangerous Necessity, Noon Night, Tonight at Noon, Eclipse, Invisible Lady, Passions Of A Woman, Sweet Sucker Dance, Devil Woman, Love's Fury, Black Saint and Sinner Lady
Personnel: Elvis Costello - Vocals, Ronnie Cuber - Baritone Saxophone, Vincent Herring - Alto and Soprano Saxophones, Alex Foster - Clarinet, Flute, Alto and Soprano Saxophones, Craig Handy - Tenor Saxophone, Jeff "Tain" Watts - Drums, Seamus Blake - Soprano and Tenor Saxophones, Randy Brecker - Trumpet, Earl Gardner - Trumpet, Conrad Herwig - Trombone, David Kikoski - Piano, Frank Lacy - Vocals, Andy McKee - Bass, Michael Rabinowitz - Bassoon, Adam Rogers - Guitar, John Stubblefield - Tenor Saxophone, Doug Yates - Bass Clarinet, Alex Sipiagin - Trumpet, Kenny Rampton - Trumpet, Jonathan Blake - Drums, Boris Kozlov - Bass, Wayne Escoffery - Tenor Saxophone, Jeremy Pelt - Trumpet