Blue Moods makes a masterful Mingus commemoration.
Blue Moods – Myth & Wisdom – [TrackList follows] – Posi-Tone PR8225, 60:35 [1/7/22] ****:
(Diego Rivera – tenor saxophone; Art Hirahara – piano; Boris Kozlov – bass; Joe Strasser – drums; David Kikoski – piano (tracks 5, 8-9))
Los Angeles-based jazz label Posi-Tone Records was founded in 1995 by producer and musician Marc Free. Over the decades, the label has released albums by trombonist Michael Dease, pianist Orrin Evans, organist Jared Gold and many more. This year Posi-Tone started a new musical venture—the Blue Moods project—which should interest jazz fans. The idea is simple and straightforward: select significant jazz artists who writers, critics, and longtime jazz devotees recognize but who might be unfamiliar to a larger music-listening audience, and record some of their compositions utilizing the Posi-Tone roster.
The Blue Moods debut—the hour-long Myth & Wisdom—focuses on jazz composer and bassist Charles Mingus who passed away in 1979. Mingus’ music, of course, continues to be performed by repertory groups such as the Mingus Big Band, Mingus Dynasty, and Mingus Orchestra, and high school students play his charts and compete in the Charles Mingus High School Competition. But Mingus is not as famous as, for example, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, or Dizzy Gillespie. The tracks on Myth & Wisdom cover several aspects of Mingus’ catalog, from well-known tunes such as a zippy translation of “Better Get It in Your Soul” (from 1959’s Mingus Ah Um) to the elegiac tribute “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” (from Mingus’ 1975 Changes One LP). The music is presented by a classic-sounding quartet which interprets Mingus’ compositions with a traditional approach, albeit finding singular ways to exhibit Mingus’ music. The band is led by tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera (yes, he was named after the iconic Mexican painter) and two different pianists: the inimitable Art Hirahara is heard on seven tracks while David Kikoski contributes to three cuts, while bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Joe Strasser hold down the rhythm section.
Blue Moods begin with the aforementioned “Better Get It in Your Soul”—an excellent opener—and follows with “Nostalgia in Times Square,” which Mingus initially wrote for John Cassavetes’ 1959 film Shadows. Mingus did it as a mid-tempo blues number and it can be found on his 1959 live record, Jazz Portraits: Mingus in Wonderland. While Mingus did not often add this to his concert repertoire, it has since become a near-standard. The Blue Moods heighten the tempo, and the arrangement is a nice Rivera showcase. A veritable tour de force is the rollicking seven-minute rendition of “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Silk Blue,” which Mingus played on stage numerous times and modified from a solo piano effort to a full-band workout. On the Blue Moods version Rivera and Kikoski offer scintillating interplay. Another must-hear is the Blue Moods’ eight-minute take of “Pithecanthropus Erectus,” the title track from Mingus’ 1956 album of the same name. This active adaptation is another determined display of the Blue Moods’ solid musicianship, in particular Hirahara’s inestimable piano skill. Blue Moods close with “Reincarnation of a Lovebird,” which Mingus taped in 1960 but which did not surface until the late 1980’s. Thus, this tune fittingly matches the definition of being ‘unfamiliar’ to most listeners because it’s not as prominent as other Mingus cuts. Mingus enthusiasts should seek out Myth & Wisdom. It is a worthy compliment to the composer and includes first-rate interpretative material. Future Posi-Tone collaborative releases concentrating on other jazz artists are on the horizon but no mention yet of who will be highlighted, nor who will be involved.
Better Get It in Your Soul
Nostalgia in Times Square
Tonight at Noon
Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love
Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Silk Blue
Peggy’s Blue Skylight
Pussy Cat Dues
Reincarnation of a Lovebird