The low ceilings of several New York basements have put a lid on Mingus's music for a long time now. But this past Saturday night it was quite the opposite as the 11-piece Mingus Orchestra played music that stretched over a big footprint and soared into the domed cathedral of St. Bart's Church. As the concert progressed, it sounded better and better.
The Mingus Orchestra is piano-less. The woodwinds are colorful from flute to bassoon. A French horn is inserted between trumpet and trombone. There's a guitar, and on Saturday night, a harp. "Ecclusiastics," "Noon Night," "Let My Children Hear Music," "Haitian Fight Song," each piece occasioned neat new instrumental combinations. The bassoon was hard to hear, but I could easily appreciate the blues and the Ellington that course through this music.
Ku-umba Frank Lacy recited the Mingus poem that begins "Consider Me Oh Lord, a colored boy. . . . Who am I? Caught in a crack that splits the world in two from China to Alabama to Lenox Avenue. . . ." Lacy's speaking voice seemed made for this space. He was back to sing the lyric by Joni Mitchell -- a love poem to jazz and naked picture of racism -- on "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," also exquisite. Then the horns paraded up and down the center aisle for "Better Get It In Your Soul" to close a jubilant night.
From left to right, the musicians are one row: Lacy on trombone, John Clark on French horn, Kenny Rampton on trumpet, Scott Robinson on flute and alto, Wayne Escoffery on tenor, Doug Yates on clarinet and bass clarinet, Michael Rabinowitz on bassoon, and Edmar Castaneda on harp, Jack Wilkins is on guitar, Boris Kozlov on bass. Donald Edwards was subtle on drums. Gunther Schuller did some conducting, and sweetly reminisced that he had sung in this church 72 years ago. He described Charles Mingus as "several persons wrapped in one -- philosopher, political activist, poet" in the titles to his compositions.
Sue Mingus presented the concert, free to the public, as part of the Mingus High School Competition with the Manhattan School of Music. St. Bart's was full, and young people especially kept coming; I assume some were competitors. I felt as though I’d seen a night of New York jazz history in the making.
If any mistakes in the above, pls correct. I didn't get a program.
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