Ray Drummond - Celebrating Mingus

Craig Jolley BY

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Claremont McKenna College
Claremont, CA

Among Charles Mingus' legacies are any number of tribute bands. Celebrating Mingus is at least the fifth I've heard. Mingus Dynasty sprang up soon after Mingus died—a sextet of ex-Mingus sidemen including Danny Richmond and Jimmy Knepper authentically soloing on his music. With the music expanded to a bigger sound a Mingus big band put out several flawless recordings . A scholarly Hal Willner-Gunther Schuller project, Epitaph, pieced together Mingus musical fragments into an extended symphonic composition. Mingus Amongus, a San Francisco show band that plays Mingus exclusively, features costumed dancers, singers, and rappers on stage to give the act a prominent visual aspect. Celebrating Mingus was a one-shot concert built around Ray Drummond that delivered the feel of Mingus, out-front bassist, as bandleader.
The band was set up basically as a quintet with five horns added for fullness. The ensemble played out of tune or otherwise sounded ragged occasionally, which is in keeping with the workshop feel Mingus favored over perfectionism. Compared with say Charlie Parker or Bud Powell whose music sounds "instrumental" there is a strong vocal aspect in Mingus' music inherited from old-time blues singers. Trombonist Les Benedict captured the vocal feel in several blues-drenched solos. His mute expertise and understanding of the jazz trombone tradition also served him well in the setting. Cecilia Coleman took a long, well-conceived solo on "Haitian Fight Song," treating it as a blues without reference to the Mingus theme. "Celia" featured Jerry Pinter both in theme statement and improv. A floating tenor inspired by Lester Young and Warne Marsh with a healthy dose of middle period Coltrane, he contributed a particularly appropriate and ethereal statement. Baritonist Brian Williams took a couple of basic blues solos that fit the context. Meanwhile Drummond continued to coax, tease, prod, and drive the band, frequently changing tempo or direction mid-tune. He played masterly intros to establish moods on "Haitian Fight Song" and "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love."

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