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The Mingus Big Band: Tonight at Noon . . .

Jack Bowers By

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Tonight at Noon . . . (Dreyfus Jazz)

Don't be misled by album's the title: love, as seen through the eyes of Charles Mingus, wasn't always sugar and spice and everything nice. In fact, it could be downright nasty. Several of the many faces of love are represented on Tonight at Noon in a series of sweeping surveys by the Mingus Big Band and eleven""piece Mingus Orchestra (that's the one with French horn, bassoon, bass clarinet, guitar and Elvis Costello). They range from ballads to blues, sophisticated themes to light""footed flag""wavers. As one expects from Mingus, the sentiments are often murky and enigmatic, the charts labyrinthine and demanding. While there are hints of an Ellington influence, especially on "Black Saint and Sinner Lady, these are incidental, as Mingus was a musical architect unlike any other whose compositions emerged fully grown from his singular imagination and temperament. Original, yes, but not always easy to comprehend or admire. Tonight at Noon, subtitled Three or Four Shades of Love, is another mixed bag with moments of great beauty counterpoised by others whose caustic dissonance can leave one (at least, this one) perplexed and annoyed. On the bright side, such anomalies are fewer and less disconcerting than on earlier albums by the band (or perhaps we've simply become more used to hearing them). The title selection, which opens in that raucus vein, rapidly shifts into a straight""ahead swinger with stormy solos by trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, alto saxophonist (and music director) Gary Foster and drummer Jeff Watts. "Tonight at Noon is performed by the Mingus Orchestra, as are "Noon Night (like the former arranged by Gunther Schuller), "Eclipse and "Invisible Lady. Elvis Costello, who croons his own words on "Invisible Lady, should receive an award for "most inscrutable lyric of the year (succeeding perennial winner Neil Diamond). Jack Walrath's ambitious chart is redeemed in part by trombonist Conrad Herwig's perky solo and splendid work by the orchestra. Sy Johnson arranged the dramatic opener, "Love Is a Dangerous Necessity (crackling solos from trumpeter Randy Brecker and tenor Craig Handy, unflagging support from bassist Boris Kozlov [or Andy McKee] and drummer Johnathan Blake), the ballad "Eclipse (featuring guitarist Adam Rogers and bassoonist Michael Rabinowitz), sumptuous showcases for Thelonious Monk Award""winning tenor Seamus Blake ("Sweet Sucker Dance ) and baritone Ronnie Cuber ("Love's Fury ), the playful "Passions of a Woman Loved and the sixteen""minutes""plus "Black Saint and Sinner Lady, which encompasses only the first half of Mingus's extended suite. Sipiagin, Herwig, alto Vincent Herring and pianist Dave Kikoski are the soloists on "Passions, Kikoski, Herring (soprano), Foster, Cuber, trombonist Ku""umba Frank Lacy and trumpeter Kenny Rampton on "Sinner Lady. The gravel""voiced Lacy sings (sort of) on Cuber's arrangement of the bluesy "Devil Woman with tenor John Stubblefield offering a few appropriate remarks of his own. The release of Tonight at Noon coincides with the eightieth anniversary of Charles Mingus's birth and the publication of Tonight at Noon: A Love Story, in which Sue Mingus (the guiding force behind the Mingus Big Band) recounts the story of their life together. The album is comprised of typically adventurous Mingus fare, wonderful for those who are tuned to his wavelength, unimposing for those who aren't.

Contact: mingusmingusmingus.com; DreyfusRecords.com


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