After all the fine Mingus Dynasty and Big Band records, one has to wonder why an Italian ensemble would attempt anything so audacious as a Mingus program and tribute with a large group. Simple, because the interpretation is so radical and the program so varied it fits nicely into the continuum of those projects. The M.J. Úrkestra numbers anywhere from 14 to 20 members, and they serve each track with as much verve and aplomb as any American jazz orchestra and are far better than most. The program here contains highly idiosyncratic yet bountifully swinging readings of the subject's "Fables of Faubus," "Reincarnation of a Lovebird," and "Boogie Stop Shuffle," and a partial version of "Pithecanthropus Erectus" in bassist Andreas Avery's original called "Clima Prehistoica." The rest of the program is made up of Mingus-dedicated or -inspired pieces, including the wondrously weird work of large-scale chamber jazz, "Il Diavolo e l'Acqua Santa," dedicated to Eric Dolphy, which features two solos each on saxophones and trombones as well as double bass. The musical direction by Robert Spadoni is flawless; his arrangement skills are precise yet full of freewheeling emotion and there is nothing academic in his approach, as he prefers his musicians to compose and solo with abandon. His rein on the ensemble elements of these tunes is loose enough to allow for the cacophony that Mingus so loved, yet keep the compositions focused toward a near-transcendental mark where everything becomes part of everything else. There is also the trademark Italian lyricism that Mingus himself so admired, present in every chorus, line, and solo. There's a running buffalo heard in "Fables" that threatens to turn into a house party at any moment, and the swelling thunder underneath the joyous blues in Spadoni's "Cinquantasei Balene Bianche," with a wildly arpeggiated guitar solo from Paolo Sorge and a moving lyric accordion solo by Massimo Fideli. Lastly, Spadoni is able to reach of the subtle chromaticism that Mingus was able to evoke at will. The colors in his horn sections playing shimmering harmonic structures against the melodies are here executed flawlessly with the right set of restrained dynamics and deep, moody pastoral textures. This is a fine program and should be heard far and wide by not only Mingus fans, but also jazz fans.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek