Mingus Dynasty

Next Generation Performs Charles Mingus Brand New Compositions

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Passion and total commitment were the hallmarks of a performance by Charles Mingus; the presence or absence of these qualities determines the success of the various recordings made by the ever-changing Mingus Dynasty band. This 1991 release by a saxophone-heavy septet is kind of a hit-or-miss affair. Some of the pieces have an academic feel, like a first or second run-through. The band starts out a bit hesitant and restrained on a "new" tune, "Sketch Four," derived from a tape of Mingus singing the melody over a metronome. This is followed by a careful reading of "Portrait." But then the group wakes up to bowl you over with a powerhouse rendition of "Opus Four," first recorded in 1973. Trumpeter and musical director Jack Walrath, who was in Mingus's final bands, is sounding better than ever, with a crackling, shiny sound that cuts through the ensemble. One of the problems here might be too strong a reed section (Craig Handy, George Adams and Alex Foster all featured on tenor). In the rhythm section, stalwart pianist John Hicks, bassist Ray Drummond, and drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith keep things popping. Smith in particular seems responsible for some of the better moments as he challenges and pushes the soloists with his everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to the trap set. It's good to have 72 minutes of "new" Mingus music, but it could have been better with an extra day's rehearsal and a trombone.

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