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Billy Mintz: Ugly Beautiful

David A. Orthmann By

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Consisting of seventeen tracks spanning over two hours of playing time, Ugly Beautiful is a large, sprawling, wise, unflinchingly honest, powerful work of art. Billy Mintz's third recording as a leader—all of which were made in the most recent decade of a fifty-year plus career—stubbornly refuses to conform to stylistic boundaries and gleefully defies expectations of any kind. The record demands to be taken on its own terms. Trying to pin labels or anticipate the course of almost any track on the diverse two-disc set misses the point entirely. It's obvious that Mintz and company are working without a safety net, so why not the listener as well? There's too much going on in the profusion of compelling collective and individual performances to fret about what goes where in relation to the jazz canon.

The recording reflects Mintz's ease in assuming the overlapping roles of composer, bandleader and drummer. He's a composer who likes to revisit his own work. "Flight," "Dit," Shmear," "Cannonball," "Ugly Beautiful," "Relent," "Retribution," and "After Retribution" appear on either Mintz Quartet or The 2 Bass Band...Live, as well as Ugly Beautiful. It's apparent that on the current project a band of intrepid peers—tenor saxophonist John Gross, tenor and soprano saxophonist Tony Malaby, pianist, Hammond B3 organist, and electric keyboardist Roberta Piket, and bassist Hilliard Greene—who have played with Mintz for a collective total of seventy-five years, have risen to the occasion and discovered novel ways of animating his work. Separate versions of "Dit," "Flight," and "Cannonball" on Ugly Beautiful are indicative of the malleability inherent in his writing; in other words, there isn't any definitive way to interpret the themes, and each rendition stands on its own merits. Moreover, Mintz's drums are built into some of the compositions, particularly "After Retribution" and "Cannonball."

Mintz's music comes in various shapes and sizes. On a track-by-track basis, splendid, stand-alone melodies coexist with terse and/or rapid-fire declarations that easily give way to collective and/or individual improvisation. The satisfying brevity of some cuts ("Angels, "Vietnam," "Dirge," "After Retribution") contrasts with others that unfold gradually ("Flight (Ballad)," "Tumba," "Love and Beauty," "Retribution"), or those that contain large swaths of slippery and/or furious free playing ("Shmear," "Dit," "Relent"). Piket's Wurlitzer, Clavinet and Fender Rhodes (as well as acoustic piano) are overdubbed into "Umba" and "Tumba." "Flight" includes Mintz's sax soli which entails the overdubbing of Malaby and alto saxophonist Anton Denner.

In the end, attempting to describe the nuts and bolts of Ugly Beautiful, or trying to capture its essence in terms common to a typical review of a jazz recording, may be doing it a disservice. The record's power and glory is a lot like the exceptional live performances that many of us have experienced at one time or another; in which, for an hour or two, the material world and our day-to-day realities are rendered insignificant. The musicians fully give of themselves and offer an unusual and compelling gift; something genuinely unfamiliar, transcendent, and profoundly unsettling.


Track Listing: CD1: Angels; Vietnam; Dit; Flight; Flight (Ballad); Cannonball; Smear; Dit (alternate take); Umba. CD2: Tumba; Dirge; Love And Beauty; Ugly Beautiful; Relent; Retribution; After Retribution; Cannonball (extended).

Personnel: John Gross: tenor saxophone; Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophones; Roberta Piket: piano, Fender rhodes; Nord Keyboard, Hammond B3; Hilliard Greene: bass; Billy Mintz: drums.

Title: Ugly Beautiful | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Thirteenth Note Records

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