Mingus Big Band | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Mingus Big Band




Top-notch soloists playing agreeable arrangements of spectacular tunes written by a member of the jazz composers' pantheon--what's not to like? As you might guess, the Mingus Big Band plays nothing but the music of the late bassist and bandleader Charles Mingus, but the exclusivity of that concept proves anything but limiting: instead, it illuminates the vast palette and wide-ranging themes employed by Mingus in establishing the most important body of jazz composition after those of Duke Ellington and perhaps Thelonious Monk. (Like Monk, one of his idols, Mingus wrote music too individualistic for easy categorization.) Organized and maintained by Sue Mingus, the bassist's widow, this band has an active repertoire of more than 40 works, two dozen of them found on last year's Grammy-nominated double CD, Live in Time (Dreyfus). For personnel, the band draws on a pool of excellent players, striking a balance between young veterans--including trombonist Ku-Umba Frank Lacy, trumpet ace Ryan Kisor, and saxist Steve Slagle, who does some of the arranging and most frequently acts as musical director--and historically minded newcomers like kid saxist Mark Shim. All of the above will appear at tonight's concert, but the lineup really gains momentum from the presence of three other worthies. Chris Potter--in my book, the best saxophonist under 30--makes almost every solo a unique adventure in reconstructed form and melodic development. Classically trained pianist Kenny Drew Jr., whose father cut his teeth playing piano with Charlie Parker, displays a welcome refusal to rely on his technique alone. And for this tour, the band stars alto saxist John Handy, who as a youngster played with Mingus in the late 50s (and who is the object of renewed attention thanks to two recent reissues on Koch Jazz). The group's modus operandi gives the lie to certain critics' prattle about the "need" for permanent jazz repertory orchestras: the Mingus Big Band makes no attempt to re-create original recordings--and in the process does a much better job of keeping Mingus's provocative, darkly charismatic music alive. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Uncredited photo of Mingus Big Band.

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