Mingus Big Band, I Am Three (Confluences/Sunnyside)

There are those that leave a legacy so gigantic that not only is it nearly impossible to fill their shoes, but, even to walk in their footsteps. Inevitably, their imitators follow and most fail miserably. The main reason for this is that the complexities of the originator tend to be a unique meld of historical, personal, political, and geographical situations that simply cannot be duplicated without seeming trite and ridiculous. Charles Mingus left us with an enormous and ferocious body of work that lives on in his passionate recordings that cry out for freedom and dignity. His music was extremely political and socially conscious; his uncontained rage tempered only by his ferocious jack-hammer swing and his ribald sense of black humor. He would fly into a mad rage if he thought you were jiving on the bandstand and send you to hospital with another kind of swing. One from his fist. There was another side of him, too. One capable of great poetic beauty. His range went from intimate to epic; from a whisper to an unshackled scream. Mingus deftly took upon the whole history of jazz from Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller to Ellington, Parker and Monk and extended the music into new realms of meaning and purpose.

The problem with the Mingus Big Band is that since its inception they have played this man’s music without conveying that life-changing sense of soul-stirring emotion. They are incapable of making me cry or ever wanting to investigate the roots of this experience or get involved. They may as well be playing Count Basie as far I’m concerned. There isn’t an urgent, defiant moment here; or one of stunning beauty. It’s just another typical bullshit jazz recording that plagues the damn near dead industry. What happened?

Well, it’s not enough to just read the sheet music and go through the motions. Not with Mingus, not with anybody, really, but definitely not with MINGUS. This just makes me shake my head. It’s just way too polite. If Mingus could hear these guys he might smash the whole bandstand apart, who knows? On the other hand, he could have just as easily coaxed these well trained musicians to be play with the fire, authority, soul, and intensity that his music requires.