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Live in Tokyo provides an opportunity to hear the easier pieces Mingus came up with and nothing he ever did was easy.

Music Review: Mingus Big Band – Live in Tokyo at the Blue Note

Alright, if you read the review I did on Charles Mingus: Live at UCLA, then you are familiar with the style Mr. Mingus is all about. The style of non-conformity, improv, and the like, sounds that feel jumbled, but what if those sounds could be practiced and rehearsed again and again? Well, this is where the Mingus Big Band (MBB) comes alive, and at the Blue Note in Tokyo they laid down some of those tracks. Produced by Sue Mingus and recorded by engineer Kichi Goto, they have brought us the incredible sounds of Charles Mingus.

To catch the magic Mingus tried to capture and the feeling of his music, the MBB increased the size and sound of the usual octet. The band includes three trumpets, two alto saxophones, two tenor saxophones, a baritone saxophone, two trombones, a bass trombone, a tuba, a piano, a flute, a stand-up bass, and drums. Put all this together and you get the start of what Mingus was trying to achieve.

As said once before, music composed by Mingus is hard for the musician to play and for some listeners to clutch an ear for. This CD grabs a live show that lets everyone take in the pieces put together by artist. Not just the obscure and existential notes that sometimes lunge out or whiz by you like a passing car; here the MBB delicately tames the wild beasts that are so often the sounds of Mingus.

"Wham Bam" leads the set and there's something about a brass section that gets you moving. The full force of all the brass knocks you back into your seat as the drums, bass, and piano zing you for loops and dips. The horns rage up and down the scales at break-neck speeds while the piano scurries about, chasing the drums and bass as they control the tempo, keeping up the pace until the tune is done.

"Opus Four" follows and has a slower drive to it, at least when at the start. With drums banging away and cymbals crashing, the horns fill in the segments that, at first, sound like something out of West Side Story. As the jam hums along, it takes time to slow down and for certain horns to make their solo shots, each one trying to top the other. You can tell the band in having fun, and although there is a chance for improv, the architecture that holds up the music can even be followed by the average listener who may be brand new to Charles Mingus. As with "Wham Bam," "Opus Four" gives the audience the ride of their lives.

"Celia" has a mellower tone to it. Although this piece has a softer beat, the brass section retains the power and passion to knock your socks off. Passion is what drove Charles Mingus and it is what drives the MBB to charge the music with a no-fear attitude. "Bird Calls" starts out with the band members making bird sounds, cheeping and cawing. They keep this up as the horns reflect the noises the band is making. Then the chase is on. The liner notes didn't say whether this is dedicated to Charlie Parker, but it has Bird's style to it, of which Mingus would extract from time to time, being a big fan of the Bird himself.

Mingus loved to mix sounds and styles just to see what would come out of it. This design of playing isn't lost on the MBB, for they have the talent and the ability to push such techniques to the limit just as he would have. There are a total of eight jams on this disk, and each one sounds better than the last. This isn't a tribute album or even a tribute to Mingus. These are musicians who love his compositions and are addicted to playing what he has created and they play it well. For anyone with a taste for jazz, and especially a taste for Mingus, the MBB Live in Tokyo is a great addition for their collection. It gives one a chance to hear the easier pieces Mingus came up with and nothing he ever did was easy.

Even since his passing in 1979, this CD gives everyone a chance to hear and feel the power, energy, and the genius Mingus was. A great appreciation for those who attempt to charge after the musical dream Mingus had, and the MBB makes it sound easy. I wonder what he would say? I think he would be happy because this CD brings his art to life, and for Mingus that was what making music was all about.

Written by Fumo Verde 

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS

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