REVIEW: Mingus Big Band at Ronnie Scott's

Charles Mingus

Mingus Big Band
(Ronnie Scott's, 20th October 2014. First House, first night of six-night Residency. Review by Joe Stoddart)

A great tradition has been invented: this time of year has become synonymous with the Mingus Big Band spending a week at Ronnie Scott’s. This year they will perform twelve shows, with Michael Richmond  in the bass chair - rather than Boris Kozlov, and the MD role taken by saxophonist Douglas Yates.

At this, the first show, the band began with Gunslinging Bird, an up-tempo rambunctious 6/4 blues which immediately unleashed the power and scope of the band with a mixture of unison figures underpinned by Ronnie Cuber’s sonorous baritone sax and interspersed with expert fills from trombonist Andy Hunter. Solos from band MC, London-born Wayne Escoffery (tenor sax) and trumpeter Alex Norris were followed by a move to 4/4 for David Kikoski‘s piano solo before Donald Edwards (Drums) set up the head out.

Next up was Invisible Lady, a beautiful composition with a clear debt (musically as well as in name) to Duke Ellington’s ‘Sophisticated Lady’ that was originally recorded in 1957 as a trombone feature for long-time Mingus collaborator Jimmy Knepper. Conrad Herwig takes the lead here contributing both the melody and a solo of incredible virtuosity which more than lives up to the original recording.

Some apparent onstage sound issues that had been occurring during the opening two numbers seemed to be cleared up and the band stepped up another notch with Pinky from Mingus’ magnum opus Epitaph. Pinky does a fantastic job of underlining what an incredible composer Mingus was, winding between melodies, counter-melodies and rhythmic feels while also showcasing some fantastic solos from Scott Robinson (Tenor Sax), Alex Norris, Ronnie Cuber and Brandon Wright (Alto Sax).

Douglas Yates featured on Profile of Jackie, a lesser performed work from Pithecanthropus Erectus that was written for alto saxophonist Jackie McLean. The lush arrangement by Sy Johnson combines exceptionally well with Yates’ saxophone to create the best sound of the evening.

Ronnie Cuber’s arrangement of Nostalgia In Times Square followed before the band finished with another composition written for a fellow musician, the Oscar Pettiford inspired O.P. Both pieces displayed the impressive interplay of the ensemble and remarkable improvisational talent that had been present all evening with Cuber’s solo on Nostalgia in Times Square, one of the finest solos of the evening. A sting of Better Git It In Your Soul bought the set to a close all too soon, leaving the near-capacity crowd wanting much, much more.

The week is nearly sold out but some tickets are available HERE.

Set List:
Gunslinging Bird
Invisible Lady
Profile Of Jackie
Nostalgia In Times Square
O.P./Better Get It In Your Soul

Full Personnel:
Trumpets: Lew Soloff (lead), Alex Norris, Philip Harper
Saxes: Douglas Yates (MD, Soprano, Alto, Flute), Brandon Wright (Alto), Wayne Escoffery (Tenor), Scott Robinson (Tenor), Ronnie Cuber (Baritone)
Trombones: Conrad Herwig, Andy Hunter, David Taylor (Bass Trombone)
Piano: David Kikoski
Bass: Michael Richmond
Drums: Donald Edwards

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