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Greg Ward & 10 Tongues: Touch My Beloved’s Thought

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Upon completing an album, Charles Mingus often said the new work was the best thing he’d ever made. He might have been accurate when discussing The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. The six-part suite, recorded in 1963, made great strides in rendering the complex bassist’s mental state as music. Lush Ellingtonian passages gave way to nightmarish brass vamps that accelerated furiously. The lower brass evoked a lumbering Mingus gait. Quentin Jackson’s muted trombone wails simulated human anguish, and Charlie Mariano’s acerbic alto saxophone provided chilling interludes.

Alto saxophonist Greg Ward created Touch My Beloved’s Thought for the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s “Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz Series” in 2015. Originally considering an adaptation of Black Saint, he ultimately settled on a new piece inspired by the classic. Since Mingus described his opus as “music for dancing and listening,” Ward teamed up with choreographer Onye Ozuzu to incorporate dancers alongside nine adventurous jazz musicians from Chicago: Russ Johnson (trumpet), Ben LaMar (cornet), Norman Palm (trombone), Christopher Davis (bass trombone), Tim Haldeman (tenor saxophone), Keefe Jackson (tenor and baritone saxophones), Jason Roebke (bass), Dennis Luxion (piano) and Marcus Evans (drums). The final product doesn’t contain the turbulence of Mingus’ original, but the multi-tiered movements, rich voicings and overall fire of the performance pay generous homage as they set a new standard.

Ward borrows only minor elements from Mingus: a few measures here and a harmonic voicing there. The diminished piano chords in “With All Your Sorrow, Sing a Song of Jubilation” recall both Mingus and Jaki Byard, as does the descending sanctified groove later in the tune. On a few tracks the seven horns play staccato shout lines, but “Grit” sounds just as close to Horace Silver as it does to Mingus. While Black Saint faded out ambiguously amidst a Mariano obbligato, Ward moves toward resolution, albeit one tempered with a brief bit of band chaos.

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