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Ku-Umba Frank Lacy & the Mingus Big Band: Mingus Sings

Perhaps more than any other modern jazz composer, Charles Mingus presents a challenge to anyone attempting a tribute album. His wit, musical depth and larger-than-life personality all factored into his writing, making his music difficult to do justice to. Not that it’s impossible. Weird Nightmare, the Hal Willner-directed tribute from 1992, featured a far-flung cast and the use of composer Harry Partch’s oddball instruments, and it mostly succeeded, despite its overambitious nature. Cornetist Kirk Knuffke and pianist Jesse Stacken’s Orange Was the Color, a duets album from 2011, stuck with Mingus’ more melodic works.

Ku-umba Frank Lacy understands the challenges of the territory and raises the stakes even higher by crafting an all-vocal set of Mingus tunes, a genre in which the bassist didn’t primarily operate. Normally a trombonist, Lacy has the ideal voice for this program, combining a gravelly sincerity (and a bit of a lisp) with a rich, deep quality that adds drama to the heavier moments. The backing of the Mingus Big Band, of which Lacy is a bedrock, ensures that the arrangements bear the mark of the composer; the ensemble uses Mingus’ original charts or those by longtime associate Sy Johnson.

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