Charlie Mingus led an interesting life. Outrageous and unverified claims of sexual adventure and misadventure share equal billing with absolutely factual outbursts of volcanic temper. And of course he’s one of the greatest composers jazz has ever seen, with work that saw him held up alongside Duke Ellington (the man an American critic once called ‘our Bach’) and that left a legacy of music that sounds as vital and exciting today as it did decades ago. In the latest Jazz Steps concert Arnie Somogyi bought his bass and the five other members of his six-piece ensemble (Jeremy Price on trombone, Karen Sharp and Tony Kofi on saxophones, Mark Edwards at the piano and Clark Tracey on drums) and paid tribute to Mingus in ‘Scenes In The City’.
You could see why Somogyi had chosen that title a few bars into the opening number. The blaring, bustling horns of Haitian Firesong kindled images of a crowded, neon-lit hectic cityscape at night, crowds elbowing their way to clubs and bars in drizzling rain. The interplay between Somogyi and Tracey (son of the great Stan) saw them take it in turns to set the other a brief passage that the other would develop and twist around.
Particular highlights of the set included Heartsbeat, a wistful piano opening giving way to slurring horns that paused and then soldiered on through aching heartache to speed up into controlled frenzy and then back down into melancholy, and The Man Who Never Sleeps, a piece Mingus never got the chance to record himself before his death in 1979. But with an ensemble as fine as this every track was a pleasure to hear. Bedtime Hour, So Long Eric, Goodby Porkpie Hat, OP, Slop and the beautiful Fables of Faubus (a protest piece bearing the name of the racist Arkansas governer Orvel E. Faubus) all graced our ears.
Almost every track on the set list was, not by design (claimed Somogyi), dedicated by Mingus to another jazz legend, and it was a measure of the composer’s versatility that the character of the man to whom he’d dedicated the piece came through as clearly as Mingus’s own voice. From the urgent beat of Jump Monk to the rollicking saloon flavour of Jellyroll, Mingus managed to imbue his music with the voices of his contemporaries and musical ancestors with chameleonic skill.
The Nottingham Youth Jazz Orchestra played a pre-show aperitif in the bar, and were joined in the intermission by their patron, Tony Kofi, who obviously believes the best way to relax after playing and before playing is to play some more.
A crowd-pleasing encore allowed local boy Tony Kofi the spotlight in a barnstorming rendition of Moanin’. The unmistakeable opening notes that sound like the soundtrack to a great movie chase scene, sirens flaring and running shadows pitched high on an alley wall.
This was a stellar gig, a six piece band of consummate musicians paying tribute to a jazz legend of incredible range and talent.
The next Jazz Steps gig is in two weeks time, and sees the three piece Preston Glasgow Low at the Bonington Theatre in Arnold on 21st November. If you need some jazz in the meantime you can catch Swingologie at West Bridgford Library on November 14th.
All photos courtesy of Bob Meyrick (c)
Arnie Somogyi’s Scenes In The City played at the Bonington Theatre for Nottingham Jazz Steps on 7th November.