After the sounds of the support act the Zacc Harris quartet playing ‘Maple Grove Two Step’ from the American guitarist’s 2012 album The Garden, the maraudingly disciplined pitch perfect Michael Janisch figure on bass receding, members of the Mingus Big Band began to emerge to make their way on to the just vacated bandstand.
Baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber was the first to surface getting set up over on the right gradually everyone coming on to the stage. Boris Kozlov in pride of place on bass over on the other side by the piano the band striking up ‘Stop Time Boogie,’ groove incorporated.
The Mingus band does not stand on ceremony and there’s plenty of chatter on stage and shouts of approval, hand claps, conversations, and when the solos hit the spot the band let everyone know, eye contact is all, tell it as it is, play as you come, make it count.
Philip Harper, later described by Kozlov as the “soul of the band,” set down his trumpet to come up front to sing the Baron Mingus-period ‘Baby, Take A Chance With Me’ in a Billy Eckstine-type croon, his register raked up. This vocal, silkier than Ku-umba’s heard on the Scotts stage with his fellow Mingusians in the past, was a big plus point early on.
Veteran bass trombonist, the dapper Earl McIntyre, before switching to tuba later, managed to slip to the space near the door by the bar to get the long view and read the sound in the room quietly tiptoeing back inconspicuously when the time came for his tuba part, his rapport with new pianist Theo Hill very strong as they played tricksier rhythm lines and dungeon-deep figures.
‘Little Royal Suite’ dedicated to Roy Eldridge (Little Jazz) was the most complicated of the charts and most musically nourishing, this outfit doesn’t rest on their Grammy-winning laurels by any means. Earlier ‘Reincarnation of a Lovebird,’ which in Mingus’ day, on one record at least, featured Eldridge, was both sensuous and compelling.
Hill, whose locked hands style and consummate taste in quiet passages has a lot of subtlety: that’s not easy given how firmly he has to play and how many switches in time and feel he has to navigate. Drummer Donald Edwards was superb. Enough said. The trumpet section whinnied and wailed, cups filled to the brim with expression, while up front in the sax line Mark Gross on alto stood out as did Wayne Escoffery on tenor sax who simply took the Wednesday first house home with him: what tone, what command, what ease on the bandstand.
Upstairs during the house switchover a few of the Mingus band sat down to have a bite to eat, the long running hard bop jam beginning just before they had to go back downstairs for the second house.
Led as ever by the popular Simians of Swing trumpeter Andy Davies who was joined by Benet McLean, or “the Buffalo,” as the velvet jacketed porkpie hat wearing Davies referred to the pianist affectionately, Birmingham bass prospect Daniel Casimir, whose sound is reminiscent of Karl Rasheed-Abel’s, and by drummer Mark Fletcher, athletic and magnetic.
A great surprise, that’s the joy of this weekly jam, was the addition of star guest alto saxophonist Soweto Kinch early on. The band kept it Sonny with ‘Tenor Madness’ to open and Kinch was flying, Davies harmonising later in the set on the hoof particularly well in tandem with Kinch on the perky bop anthem ‘Salt Peanuts’. Leeds singer Marlena Kelli, a Liane Carroll in the making perhaps, guested to bluesy effect on a nuanced ‘Nature Boy.’