Live in Tokyo at the Blue Note (Sunnyside Records)

Mingus Big Band

Released September 26, 2006

Grammy Nominee for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album 2007




Thirty years ago, in late December, 1976, Charles Mingus performed a series of concerts in Tokyo with his quintet. In 2005, also in December, another Mingus band rounded out a week at Tokyo’s famous Blue Note Club with a live recording on New Year’s Eve. Trumpet player Jack Walrath was on hand for both events, linking past and present. The original tour included Walrath, Charles Mingus, Dannie Richmond, Danny Mixon and Ricky Ford. The current 14-piece ensemble, the Mingus Big Band, is the legacy group that carries Mingus’s voice into the future. For the past fifteen years it has kept Mingus’s music passionately alive in a weekly residency in Manhattan and in clubs and concert halls across the world.
Back in the Seventies, Charles Mingus was playing the compositions he had just written: “Sue’s Changes,” “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” “Remember Rockefeller at Attica,” “Noddin’ Ya Head Blues.” The Mingus Big Band went further back, to the Fifties, for four
Mingus compositions arranged by current band members.
Kiichi Goto a music professor, a synthesizer expert who lived under the tutelage of Moog, a man of boundless generosity, was the artist who oversaw two nights of recording, insisting on bringing his own state-of-the-art equipment. Engineer Tom Swift took over in New York, mixed and mastered the material as he has done on the band’s last six recordings. “I want
it to project the vitality of that evening,” he said. “I want it to feel like you’re there at a table — like you have to pay the two-drink minimum!”
Charles Mingus passed on in 1979. His enormous legacy of composition, with its shouts and clamors, its melodies and yearnings, continues to walk the earth through the vitality of these musicians and their uniquely personal translations of his music.

Track Listing:

1. Wham Bam (Charles Mingus) 6:38

2. Opus Four (Charles Mingus) 9:20

3. Celia (Charles Mingus) 7:00

4. Bird Calls (Charles Mingus) 6:42

5. Meditations (Charles Mingus) 10:26

6. Prayer for Passive Resistance (Charles Mingus) 6:09

7. Free Cell Block F (Charles Mingus) 7:16

8. Ecclusiastics (Charles Mingus) 10:33


Eddie Henderson: trumpet
Jack Walrath: trumpet
Alex Sipiagin: trumpet
Abraham Burton: alto saxophone
Craig Handy: alto saxophone, flute
Wayne Escoffery: tenor saxophone
Seamus Blake: tenor saxophone
Ronnie Cuber: baritone saxophone
Frank Lacy: trombone, vocal ku-umba
Conrad Herwig: trombone
Earl McIntyre: bass trombone, tuba
Dave Kikoski: piano
Kenny Davis: bass
Johnathan Blake: drums

Recorded December 31, 2005, at The Blue Note, Tokyo, Japan

Producer: Sue Mingus

Engineering: Kiichi Goto

Mastering, Mixing: Tom Swift

Photographer: Yuka Yamaji


“Wham, Bam,” indeed! Compared to the best performances by the late Charles Mingus, this effort has the air of more orthodox big bands like the ones led by Clarke/Boland and Jones/Lewis, which is also to say the best. McCoy Tyner’s band on a good night has included some of the same performers featured on this live release, and Dave Kikoski is a somewhat Tynerish pianist, but for all that, the Mingus truth burns through. 
The drive of the music can be fearsome, as on Ronnie Cuber’s opening chart, “Wham, Bam!” Cuber sounds magnificent, on his baritone solo and leading ensemble entries at climaxes in trumpeter Alex Sipiagin’s own red-hot solo. This set was recorded in December, and the drummer certainly warmed himself up. 
All of the original compositions are by Mingus. Boris Kozlov’s arrangement of the relatively unfamiliar “Opus Four” features a mighty brass ensemble. Frank Lacy’s trombone reminds me of when I saw him, along with trumpeter Eddie Henderson, both on this date, with Tyner. They didn’t have quite the same tear-up opportunities as this more recent winter night in Japan afforded. And this was a different band, too. 
The impassioned “Celia,” at medium tempo, does not let any cool in. Steve Slagle’s arrangement has his fellow altoist Craig Handy making lots of rhythmic figures, before the obligatory Johnny Hodges passage and a finish nearer Jackie McLean. “Bird Calls” comes from the heated aviary, taking the title wholly literally before the saxophones turn back into saxophones, first Cuber’s big baritone, then Seamus Blake’s tenor, and after Handy, the darker-hued alto of Abraham Burton. Then there’s a lot of swapping half-choruses, precision treated as a challenge, followed by Kikoski and bassist Kenny Davis, and eventually bird-like, quiet sounds again. 

Davis opens “Meditations” playing arco before the ostinato figure begins and Handy’s flute flies on top, with at times ingenious harmonisations from the saxophones. Burton’s gradually more emotional alto doesn’t forget the theme. The original topic of meditation was a pair of wire-cutters, and an appropriate urgency is applied to the music. 
John Stubblefield was also in the Tyner band I saw those years back, but he was present in Tokyo only in spirit—and the arrangement of “Prayer for Passive Resistance,” whose subsequent performance he had discussed on his deathbed. Wayne Escoffery plays with controlled heat before softening down beautifully, coming across as not so wild a player as Stubblefield.

Kozlov’s “Free Cell Block F” reminds me to ask whether Handy has the prettiest flute sound in jazz. Conrad Herwig articulates his cooler trombone sound very cleanly in exchanges with Lacy, who re-emerges on Sy Young’s chart of “Ecclusiastics,” reading from the book of Ecclesiastes. Kikoski plays some sanctified piano; Escoffery and Blake, the latter with even a touch of Lester Young, are very effective in restrained tenor duet, sounding rather lyrical before Lacy joins in with Hallejujahs. Amen!

Robert R. Calder (AllAboutJazz)