BWW Review: MINGUS DYNASTY at TSRI Auditorium

BWW Review: MINGUS DYNASTY at TSRI Auditorium

The Mingus Dynasty Septet plays often at the Jazz Standard in New York City, one of the top jazz clubs in the country. La Jolla's Athenaeum Library brought them to San Diego for two performances that included a tribute to Charles Mingus's Tijuana Moods album, originally recorded in 1957 and finally released in 1962. The septet, appropriately enough, played first in Tijuana. The following night I was at the TSRI Auditorium near the UCSD campus to see a repeat performance of the all-Mingus program.

Though it wasn't on the Tijuana album, the group led off with "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk." The tune began at a screaming quick pace that later turned into a bluesy walk. The first solo went to tenor player Wayne Escoffery who handles any up-tempo with impressive ease. He's an edgy fiery player with exceptional speed and technique, though he could perhaps more often recall a Miles Davis recommendation, "Don't worry about playing a lot of notes. Just find one pretty one." Trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy took over with a looser mainstream style to fit a slower tempo. The piece ended with a riotous splash of near-cacophony, a free-for-all typical of many of Mingus's own performances.

An extended suite of Mingus originals from the Tijuana Moods album followed. There was no attempt to make an exact duplicate of the recording. "Flamingo," an old standard by Ted Grouya and Edmund Anderson wasn't included, and other differences were evident as soon as the group jumped into "Dizzy Moods" with a faster tempo than Mingus's own.

Alto player Brandon Wright switched to flute for his solo on "Tijuana Gift Shop," then Escoffery and trumpeter Alex Sipiagin traded choruses before the tune's sly perky melody returned. The Tijuana Moods suite finished-up with an arrangement that combined "Ysabel's Table Dance" with "Los Mariachis." Pianist Theo Hill's beautiful, flamenco-inflected solo was a highlight. And it was fun watching him bouncing enthusiastically at faster tempos as though attached to a spring. Drummer Adam Cruz was a solid timekeeper, a must with Mingus's changing tempos and sometimes tricky rhythmic demands. Cruz supports soloists, unlike many of today's hyperactive top drummers who too often sound like they are competing with them.

As the concert continued, "Consider Me," a Langston Hughes poem Mingus used in his Weary Blues project, was read by Frank Lacy with Mingus's moody chart as background. "Meditation for Moses," another Mingus original followed. It featured Brandon Wright's fluid alto, at first in an exchange with bassist Boris Koslov, who played some very Mingus-like riffs. Koslov arranges for, and is a member of the Mingus Big Band, which also appears regularly at the Jazz Standard. The set, which ran for over 90 uninterrupted minutes, concluded with "Three or Four Shades of Blues."

The Dynasty septet was one of three bands formed by Sue Mingus shortly after her husband's death in 1979, and she continues to have a hand in managing all three. The current septet-band members have played for years in the Mingus legacy groups, know the style well, and are among New York's best jazz musicians, technically more proficient than most of those in Mingus's own bands 60 years ago. They do a terrific job of interpreting many of his more than 300 compositions and are a must-see when in New York. But Mingus was a tornado, playing and writing with intense passion. A creative risk taker himself, he challenged his musicians to go all-out, to play at the edge of control, and sometimes beyond. His bands sometimes produced a feeling of joyful freedom and wild emotion seldom duplicated by even today's best players.

BWW Review: MINGUS DYNASTY at TSRI Auditorium
Mingus Dynasty (Photo Ron Bierman)

I've been attending Athenaeum jazz concerts for almost 20 years, usually at the TSRI Auditorium, a 352 tiered-seat venue with fabulous acoustics. Athenaeum jazz program coordinator Dan Atkinson is unmatched for the quality of the musicians he so consistently brings to San Diego. They are always players admired by hardcore fans and often honored as among the best in Down Beat Magazine's prestigious annual critics poll. Visit the Athenaeum's jazz page for information about upcoming concerts.

Charles Mingus photo courtesy La Jolla's Athenaeum Music and Arts Library.

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