About the album
The centenary of the birth of Charles Mingus, in April 2022, has served to reinforce his importance in twentieth-century music. His “achievements surpass in historic and stylistic breadth those of any other major figure in jazz.” (New Grove Dictionary). Mingus could be angry, even violent, but also loving and tender. All aspects of his complex character find expression in his music. It has a vast emotional palette and a unique way of expressing defiance and dissent.
One of the main events marking the centenary was a concert at the Philharmonie in Berlin on 13 April 2022 in the series curated by Siggi Loch. “Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic – Celebrating Mingus 100” is a live recording of six of the Mingus compositions from that concert. At one level, it was ‘just’ a concert. There were no protests. No basses or chairs were deliberately broken. Nobody took a shotgun and aimed it at a lightbulb. And yet, as is clear from this recording, each and every one of the nine musicians who appeared on stage at this concert – they had mostly not known each other before the project started – threw her or his entire musical essence into this concert, while staying true to Mingus’s spirit.
The first musical sounds heard on the album come from Austrian bassist Georg Breinschmid. One of the leaders, he juxtaposes forthright attack and caressing tenderness in the Mingus manner as his bass introduces Mingus’s “Jelly Roll”. The other leader is Swedish, Magnus Lindgren, mostly playing baritone sax here, with a joyful respect for Pepper Adams. French vocal star Camille Bertault has another antecedent in mind – Joni Mitchell – in setting words in her native language to the lament “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”. Two Americans are at the strong beating heart of the band: pianist Danny Grissett, a stalwart of the Mingus Big Band, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, simply one of the greats. Two stellar musicians who have made Germany their home, Hungarian sax master Tony Lakatos and Australian-born trombonist Shannon Barnett both leave a fabulous impression here. The home team from Germany, trumpeter Matthias Schriefl and young star saxophonist Jakob Manz both play as if their very lives depend on it. Forget stereotypes of German order and discipline: this is utterly passionate music-making at a very high level. There can be few sounds as joyous as the exultant “Better Git It In Your Soul” which brings the recording to a close.
The Mingus Centenary has resonated deeply in 2022: just as injustice, fear and uncertainty surround us, so do instances of super-human kindness and visions of beauty. All these human emotions are present in Mingus’s music. Whereas Mingus’s ashes were entrusted to the River Ganges, his indomitable spirit truly came to life in an unforgettable concert in Berlin.