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The Mingus Big Band: Que Viva Mingus!

Jim Santella By

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Charles Mingus wrote over 300 compositions in his lifetime, all of which provoke interest among fans of good music. The ten Mingus compositions presented here were arranged specifically for the New York-based Mingus Big Band by Michael Mossman, Chico O'Farrill, Hilton Ruiz, Sy Johnson, Earl McIntyre, Steve Slagle and Ronnie Cuber. The Latin sounds of this session import cultural influences from Spain, Mexico, Columbia, Puerto Rico, and several other Caribbean countries.

When Mingus assembled Tijuana Moods, which predated the Gil Evans / Miles Davis collaboration Sketches of Spain, he showed the world another side of his compositional management. In fact, the fusion of music from various cultures is at the heart of jazz. Four of the tracks on Que Viva Mingus! are compositions from Tijuana Moods that have been arranged for the band. Steve Turre's plaintive cries through his conch shells open the recording session with the classic "Cumbia & Jazz Fusion." Solos from saxophonists Steve Slagle and John Stubblefield, pianist David Kikowski and trumpeter Randy Brecker are followed by some earthy "Shortnin' Bread" lyrics from Stubblefield and Ku-umba Frank Lacy. Evoking a trademark tongue-in-cheek manner, Stubblefield tells us that "Mama's little baby don't like no shortnin' bread / Mama's little baby likes truffles / Mama's little baby likes caviar / Mama's little baby likes all the fine things of life". Then Lacy relates that "Mama's little baby likes school / So our kids won't be raised to act like no fool." They've captured the original Mingus mood.

"Los Mariachis" supplies mariachi trumpet harmony to introduce lyrical bassist John Benitez, who borrowed Mingus' lion's head Roth bass for this performance. Young lion tenor saxophonist David Sanchez and trombonist Clark Guyton each produce spirited solos before the mariachi effect returns to close the loop. "Tijuana Gift Shop" finds Earl McIntyre's tuba at the very bottom of the big band arrangement before the ensemble trims down to a piano trio in support of soloists Ryan Kisor on trumpet and Vincent Herring on alto saxophone. Ronnie Cuber's baritone saxophone, an obvious trademark of the Mingus Big Band, stretches out on "Dizzy Moods," Chris Potter's alto saxophone turns up the heat on "Far Wells Mill Valley," and Mark Shim's tenor saxophone provides something cool on "Slippers." The session ends with the dramatic "Ysabel's Table Dance." Both Seamus Blake on tenor sax and Steve Slagle on alto sax supply echoes of La Conja's vocal chants during their emotionally-charged solo choruses. Through the music of this dedicated big band, Mingus lives on. Highly recommended.

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