May 1997

Mingus Big Band
Live in Time
Dreyfus Records

Of all the repertory big bands and orchestras this one seems to have the most fun, at least based upon their weekly Thursday evenings at The Fez under the Time Cafe in New York. Concert citings in D.C. at a Library of Congress gig, and under the big tent at Jazz & Heritage bore this out as well. Is it the difficult navigational waters of Charles Mingus' music? Or perhaps it's the revolving door nature of the personnel, anchored by such staple members as trumpeters Randy Brecker and Philip Harper, raucous trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy and his section neighbor, the venerable Britt Woodman, and saxophonists Ronnie Cuber and Steve Slagle. A new addition to the stable of players is alto man Gary Bartz, who accounts for four notable solos on these discs. One suspects it's the bossman himself hovering over every band performance, not to mention the keeper of his flame, ever-vigilant wife Sue Mingus and her perseverance, that are the keys to this band's ebullient spirit.

Whatever the case may be, long live the Mingus Big Band. Another of its attractive elements is its ability to interpret for large ensemble works only previously heard via Mingus' various smaller group jazz workshops. Given the freedom to improvise with gusto in their chosen manner within the confines of Mingus' broad canvasses, the musicians who comprise the Mingus Big Band have kept it fresh, and brimming with merriment. They are arguably the smokingest regularly performing big band on the planet. And this two-CD chronicle is a strong addition to the Mingus catalogue.

Originally published in May 1997
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