Mingus Big Band at Ronnie Scott’s, W1
January 27, 2016
The forecasters may not have spotted it, but a hurricane is blowing through central London this week. Yes, the Mingus Big Band is back in residency at what the double bass player Boris Kozlov calls its “second home”.
It’s always possible, I suppose, that one or two expense-account punters venturing out to hear the orchestra for the first time may be under the impression that Charles Mingus himself will be on the bandstand, shouting out instructions in that inimitable voice of his. The scarcely believable truth is that he has been dead for nearly 40 years. But thanks to his widow, Sue, who has supervised his legacy with a shrewd eye, his work has reached an entirely new audience. This ghost band kicks and capers and gives Old Father Time a cheerful v-sign.
The opening set at Ronnie Scott’s struck a perfect balance between exuberance and introversion, the programme veering from the raucous E’s Flat, Ah’s Flat Too to the recently discovered Noonlight, a shimmering theme vaguely reminiscent of Duke Ellington’s The Single Petal of a Rose.
Above all, the musicians, who play a weekly date at the Jazz Standard club in Manhattan, have managed to preserve the aura of workshop spontaneity. Drawing so heavily on blues and gospel, Mingus’s music needs to keep its raw edges. So it didn’t even matter if there were occasional mix-ups over cues or two soloists getting to their feet at the same time.
The alto player Brandon Wright added flute to the sinuous Meditation on a Pair of Wire Cutters after Kozlov had played a bowed bass introduction. The tenorist Wayne Escoffery fired off one ferocious solo after another. There was a British presence too, in the trombonist Paul Taylor, leader of the quirky and tuneful Blowpipes trio, sitting in for a member of the band who had been snowed in on the east coast of America. Soho’s storm will be raging until Saturday.