The MBB has become the most important and virile "ghost band" of them all. Their roaring, swinging spirit echoes the late bassist/composer/bandleader in ways that compare favorably to when Mingus was alive. The musicianship, rotating as it tends to, is consistently and outrageously outstanding, the new arrangements of classic Mingus tunes are fresh and vibrant as ever, and solos absolutely riveting. For this time around the band includes lead trumpeter Earl Gardner, lead alto/soprano saxophonist Alex Foster, and prominent soloists include tenor saxophonists Mark Shim, Seamus Blake, and John Stubblefield; trumpeters Randy Brecker and Alex Sipiagin; baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber; trombonist Conrad Herwig; alto saxophonists Bobby Watson and Vincent Herring; and arrangements by Michael Mossman, Sy Johnson, Howard Johnson, and Steve Slagle. Mingus himself speaks during the introductory "It Was a Lonely Day in Selma, Alabama," then the band chants and claps to "Freedom," certainly a prolific tone setter. "Haitian Fight Song" has bassist Boris Kozlov leading the angst-riddled charge, the piece played to perfection. The classic ode to Lester Young "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" is accented by tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake's patient, poignant solo and the band's pristine reading of Sy Johnson's new chart. "Don't Let It Happen Here," with its tango-flavored fanfare and son Eric Mingus' recitation, rivals the original. "Meditations for a Pair of Wire Cutters" has all the dynamic stop-start Mingus traits, "Pussycat Dues," is a pretty straight by comparison blues, "Oh Lord, Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me" has Eric Mingus returning on the slow blues that still has relevance today as he shouts "don't let 'em drop it, stop it, be-bop it," and the 16-minute finale "Little Royal Suite" is so Ellingtonian in flavor, a full-bore swinger that lets the band, especially soloists Sipiagin, Stubblefield, and Herring running wild out of their cages. To interpret Mingus' music so faithfully and with such great authenticity and zeal is not an easy task. Another triumph for this ensemble, easily a Top Five jazz album of 1999, an essential purchase. Much more could be written or said, but Mingus and the band speak much louder than words.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos