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October 2000

Kevin Mahogany
Pussy Cat Dues: The Music of Charles Mingus

Kevin Mahogany's fans are likely to feel scammed by this CD. Judging by the cover portrait of the singer and his top billing, one would assume that Mahogany was the album's feature attraction. In fact, Pussy Cat Dues is a concert presentation of Charles Mingus compositions performed by the WDR Big Band, recorded live in Cologne, Germany, in 1995. Mahogany appears on only four of the CD's six tracks, and even then sometimes as sideman rather than leader. At most, his singing is limited to about a quarter of the album's running time.
Setting aside the truth-in-advertising issue, Pussy Cat Dues respectfully honors the bassist-composer's musical legacy. Two illustrious Mingus alumni supplement the 18-piece WDR band, directed by Bill Dobbins: the magnificent, perpetually underestimated trombonist Jimmy Knepper, and the fiery, Bird-inspired alto saxophonist Charles McPherson. The arrangements by Dobbins, Knepper and Bill Holman expand Mingus' small-group themes into thoughtfully written, hard-swinging, cleanly executed orchestral pieces, lacking only the grit and freedom that counterbalanced premeditation in Mingus' own recordings.
Apart from his valedictory collaborations with Joni Mitchell, none of which is included here, Mingus wrote few vocal pieces. The best of these are two ballads-"Eclipse" (pronounced with the accent on the first syllable) and "Portrait," for which the composer provided his own poetic lyrics. Mahogany smoothly negotiates the tricky intervals of these compositions, as well as the familiar "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," which is contained in a 20-minute, four-composition medley that concludes with the singer's sanctified scatting on the high-spirited "Better Git Hit in Your Soul." Despite the deceptive packaging, and Knepper and McPherson frequently stealing the spotlight from Mahogany, Pussy Cat Dues is a zestful if somewhat pasteurized tribute to one of jazz's immortals.

Originally published in October 2000
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