This 2005 New Year’s Eve show recorded at the Blue Note in Tokyo offers the best of the Mingus Big Band. Here are Eddie Henderson, Jack Walrath (who was with Mingus in Tokyo 30 years prior to this) and Alex Sipiagin on trumpets, Abraham Burton and Craig Handy on altos, Wayne Escoffery and Seamus Blake on tenors, the great Ronnie Cuber on baritone, Ku-umba Frank Lacy and Conrad Herwig on trombones, Earl McIntyre on bass trombone and tuba, Dave Kikowski at the piano, drums from Jonathan Blake, and Kenny Davis sitting in the big man’s bass chair. The energy level is on high at all times.
Pianist Davis opens the program with flying fingers before the horns kick in on the opening "Wham Bam." Cuber’s solo here is incendiary and Sipiagin turns in equally fiery trumpet, while Blake kicks the band. On the following "Opus Four," it is Lacy, Henderson and Kikowski who take impressive turns. This is a wholly democratic - and wholly booty kickin’ - ensemble. The ensemble interplay is big band tight. These were players who had to meet the exacting job requirements, after all: Come to kick butt or stay home.
"Celia," is alto saxophonist Craig Handy’s feature. The ballad is played wonderfully and the audience is appreciative. The following "Bird Calls" is a saxophone spotlight, and the chasing done by Cuber, Blake, Handy and Burton is guaranteed to kick the pulse up a few beats.
"Meditations," one of the staples of the Mingus book, is given a superb bass intro by Davis, who proves himself able to hold that highly esteemed chair. Handy’s melody flute is impressive and works well in tandem with Burton’s alto. On "Prayer For Passive Resistance," another of the strong Mingus book entries, the big band is slinky and sassy, with Escoffery’s tenor riding high on the band’s wave.
"Free Cell Block F" offers the trombones a chance to shine, with Handy’s flute on top and Cuber’s bari at the bottom. For the closing "Ecclusiastics," Lacy "amens" a preacher role, ala some pieces in the Mingus past with a taste of Cannonball Adderley in the mix. Davis anchors the piece with gospel piano, while the whole band takes it to church. The tenors have the last word here with their pew-rockin’ solos.
More Mingus is always a good thing for your correspondent; this live set is an extremely energetic affair guaranteed to induce smiles in all big band lovers.