REVIEW/DRAWINGS: Mingus Ah Um in the Played Twice at Brilliant Corners series (2015 EFG LJF)

Alex Garnett on baritone sax at Brilliant Corners
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Mingus Ah Um
(Played Twice at Brilliant Corners, 19 November 2015; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


There is a nice link between the Mingus Ah Um album and the 'Played Twice' concept, curated by Amit Patel and Quentin Collins at Brilliant Corners in Dalston. Mingus's subsequent recording, Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus', for Nat Hentoff's Candid label includes the vocal version of Fables of Faubus which Columbia vetoed on the original issue, and has Mingus recreating a bar-room in the Nola studios, entreating the audience  to remain quiet - "we are interrupted by your noise; in fact, don't take any drinks, no cash registers ringing." With lights dimmed, Patel played the original UK Philips pressing on a superb sound system to the respectfully silent sold-out house, to bring out all the warmth and nuances of the vinyl, from the multiple tempo changes to Mingus's vibrating bass.

Arranger and bassist Mark Lewandowski, had assembled a highly accomplished group to take on the 'scary … fun and terrifying' task of 'revisioning Mingus Ah Um'. Stepping in to the boots of the Handy, Ervin, Knepper, Parlan, Richmond and Mingus is not for the faint-hearted! Responding with sensitivity, intelligence, authenticity and a couple of inspired left-field punches, they did more than justice to the LP's beautifully structured compositions.

Kicking off with the pulsating section work of Better Git It In Your Soul, they set the tone - no chance of tripping up on its twists and turns, they'd rehearsed them to a tee, which they followed through with the Ellingtonian slip and slide of the full tilt Boogie Stop Shuffle, and the tricksy ensemble arrangements of Bird Calls - neat but not too tidy, as the master would have wished. The fresh surprises were a mildly anarchic, heavyweight version of Goodbye Porkpie Hat, turning this thoughtful tribute to Lester Young on its head, and the totally stripped back Pussycat Dues for Alex Garnett's beefy, bluesy baritone sax and Bruno Heinen's gently flowing piano alone - nothing else.

There were lovely solos and duets peppered throughout - Nathaniel Cross on trombone with Heinen, an ever so subtle combination; Ed Jones, lending Rollins-esque authority; Lewandowski, with delicate solo runs, not shying away from the leader's role; Quentin Collins crisp and cool, and James Maddren, all rimshots and cracking pace in true Dannie Richmond style.


The septet in full swing playing Mingus Ah Um at Brilliant Corners
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

A great evening combining the original LP heard in optimum conditions with its reinterpretation in great style by the live ensemble. One suggestion - on a subsequent outing, maybe a vocal version of Fables of Faubus could be added to the repertoire, to spice it up even more!

Mark Lewandowski - bass
Alex Garnett - alto and baritone saxes
Ed Jones - tenor sax
Nathaniel Cross - trombone
Quentin Collins - trumpet
Bruno Heinen - piano
James Maddren - drums

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