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Charles Mingus

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Charles Mingus, Mingus Moves,

Atlantic SD 1563.

This is the first new Mingus album in a while, with plenty of brand new tunes, some new faces, and lots of very satisfying, original music. Mingus Moves features the most recent Mingus quintet, and it's a rare opportunity to hear what Charles and the boys have been up to in their jam sessions.

Most Mingus albums are much larger scale than this...his last release featured over twenty musicians live at Carnegie Hall! Exciting, for sure, but mostly a cutting contest when compared to the warm, sensitive interaction that makes this new LP such a joy to listen to. Charles has an absolutely first rate unit together here, no doubt New York City's finest.

Trumpeter Ronald Hampton and tenor sax man George Adams handle most of the front line work, and they handle it well, slipping in and out of alternatively relaxed and frantic moods. Both of them are masters of the mainstream, but can howl, wail, and scream with the best of the New Jazz innovators.

These are highly trained high energy cats, for sure, and they don't let any one musical trip dominate their style. They've listened to all their masters, from Lester Young and Satchmo to John Coltrane and Don Cherry. It's all there somewhere, and it all sounds fresh and bright.

Don Pullen handles the keyboards, and all I can say is that he is phenomenal. Pullen has incredibly fast, strong fingers, an even faster imagination, and a sense of harmonic freedom that is positively exhilarating. Notes gush out of his golden-toned grand in torrents of sparkling McCoyesque energy. I think it's a whole new level of jazz piano...wild, percussive, and very beautiful.

Combine Pullen's keyboard with Danny Richmond's rock steady drumming and the amazing Mingus on bass, and you have one hell of a rhythm section. Richmond has drummed with Charles for years, and is an expert at stitching the many pieces of a complicated Mingus original together into a cookin', steady swingin' jam.

There are enough time shifts in a typical Mingus number to keep all but the best of drummers lost in their own back-beat, but Danny Richmond soars along, breathing rhythmically agile life into every tune, from the slow, moody ballads to the flat-out, high energy stompers.

Of the seven tunes on Mingus Moves, only three are Mingus compositions, unusual but not upsetting. The album contains consistently original, engaging writing that spans a wide variety of moods, styles, and energy levels. The opening tune, by Mingus, is entitled, "Canon." "Canon" is a medieval musical device of thematic repetition, and here the quintet takes it a few steps beyond what any monk would have ever dreamed up! It's a quiet, introspective piece that opens softly, builds, and then closes as quietly as it began. Very nice, very classical, very Mingus.

There's even some vocal work on this new LP, on the title cut, a Doug Hammond original. The voicing the two singers use is especially effective: they stay over an octave apart most of the time, creating an open, airy sound that reminds me of bop clubs and and swingle singers. Sy Johnson's tune, "Wee", is a real gem. There's a searingly beautiful piano theme that Pullen keeps shifting over into a funky vamp while the rest of the band just jams out. Very pleasing to the ear.

Needless to say, I dig this new LP immensely. Top notch musicians, great jam sessions, fresh original material, and a style that can't be pigeonholed because it's always evolving. Listen to Mingus Moves soon.

-Jim Dulzo