Greg Ward and 10 Tongues – Touch My Beloved’s Thought [Charles Mingus tribute] – Greenleaf Music

Mingus’ spirit continues to inspire.

Greg Ward and 10 Tongues – Touch My Beloved’s Thought [TrackList follows] – Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1050, 50:55 [7/8/16] ****:

(Greg Ward – alto saxophone, co-producer; Tim Haldeman – tenor saxophone; Keefe Jackson – tenor and baritone saxophone; Ben LaMar Gay – cornet; Russ Johnson – trumpet; Norman Palm – trombone; Christopher Davis – bass trombone; Dennis Luxion – piano; Jason Roebke – bass; Marcus Evans – drums)

Charles Mingus’ music has inspired, influenced and stimulated artists, listeners and others in many ways. For example, Joni Mitchell took Mingus’ music into the pop realm on her 1979 record, Mingus; and countless jazz musicians have covered Mingus. Chicago saxophonist/composer Greg Ward was asked in 2014 about the possibility of producing a large-ensemble project which could accompany dance choreography, and incorporating elements from Mingus’ 1963 LP, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. The idea became a contemporary and unique presentation which paid homage to Mingus and his spirit via a modern sensibility. The dance/music performance, with music by Ward and his 10 Tongues group, premiered in August, 2015. The live music was taped, and the result is the 50-minute Touch My Beloved’s Thought, a nine-track CD on Dave Douglas’ Greenleaf Music imprint. This is not a recreation or free adaptation of Mingus’ seminal opus, but instead original tunes that often use fleeting bits from Mingus’ material as a building block.

A notable sample of Ward’s approach is “With All Your Sorrow, Sing a Song of Jubilance.” Ward utilized a quick piano run which Mingus played, and expanded that small component into the whole composition. During the arrangement, Ward showcases his ability to orchestrate dramatic parts, akin to what Mingus or Duke Ellington accomplished.  The piece begins as a trio section with Dennis Luxion on acoustic piano, Jason Roebke on acoustic bass and drummer Marcus Evans emphasizing subtle percussion. Gradually, the horns enter, first just one, then more as the tonal palette widens, then affectedly shortens back to minimal instrumentation, and then builds up again. Another demonstration of Ward’s methodology is the punchy “The Menacing Lean,” which sourced a four-second trombone passage in one of Mingus’ compositions. The 6:32 track may be all Ward, but it denotes a lineage which traces to Mingus’ orchestrations, mainly with juxtaposed horns (saxes, cornet, trumpet, trombones) against a driving rhythmic foundation (piano, drums, bass), as well as the perception of tension which rises and then rises again.  “The Menacing Lean” segues into the aptly-entitled, 45-second “Smash, Push, Pull, Crash.” One of the most contemporary tunes is “Round 3,” which was prompted by a major seventh voicing which Mingus included during The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Ward took what Mingus produced, rethought it completely and the outcome is a cut which pulses with a hip-hop-induced beat which maintains a thorough jazz pattern. Bopping exuberance is exhibited on “Grit,” which Ward says displays his “interpretation of Mingus’ love and interpretation of Duke Ellington’s music.”

There are prominent intervals. The first half of “Dialogue of the Black Saint” consists of Roebke’s bass soloing, with sly references to Mingus in the how Roebke explores the harmony. In no way does Roebke copy Mingus, but Mingus’ personality can be felt. The track’s second half includes the rest of the ensemble in a complex back-and-forth conversation which flits from horns to the rhythm instruments, particularly via Russ Johnson’s trumpet, where he adds a plunger effect. The notion of solo interludes—something borrowed from Mingus’ arranging style—is heard in other places. Pianist Dennis Luxion has a superlative improvisational break during the melancholic and melodic “Singular Serenade,” while the aforementioned “Smash, Push, Pull, Crash” involves a brief skirmish between Norman Palm’s trombone and Christopher Davis’ bass trombone.

Mingus’ The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady has memorable movements (the album entails a single continuous composition rather than isolated pieces). Ward does a similar approach throughout, but the conclusion, the 12:34 “Gather Round, the Revolution Is at Hand” is most comparable to what Mingus achieved. There is continuity from start to finish, but discrete segments supply a composite outlook, with solo features from Ward and fellow saxophonist Keefe Jackson, and a cacophonous ending where anarchy is the rule. In a perfect world, listeners should hear Mingus’ The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and then immediately spend time with Ward’s Touch My Beloved’s Thought. It would take less than two hours (less time than watching one of the recent summer blockbuster superhero movies) and may well be one of the best comparison/contrast experiences a jazz fan could embark on.

TrackList: Daybreak; Singular Serenade; The Menacing Lean; Smash, Push, Pull, Crash; With All Your Sorrow, Sing a Song of Jubilance; Grit; Round 3; Dialogue of the Black Saint; Gather Round, the Revolution Is at Hand.

—Doug Simpson

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