The delights are so plentiful on Tonight At Noon.... Three Or Four Shades Of Love
that it's difficult to find a starting point for reviewing the CD. The relatively short first number, "Love Is A Dangerous Necessity," starts with an ominous fanfare, akin to a film noir theme, before it breaks out into a (once again) short but thrilling Randy Brecker trumpet solo (helping to redeem himself from the disastrous Hanging In The City.)
After saxophonist Craig Handy and drummer Jonathan Blake contribute equally succinct solos, it becomes evident that "Love Is A Dangerous Thing" is meant
to serve as a dramatic introduction to a complex theme that isn't usually associated with Charles Mingus:
Here I am, writing this coincidentally on April 22, only because I had cleared away all of my other commitments and was able to clear my mind for uninterrupted listening, once more, of this superlative album. April 22 happens to be Charles Mingus' eightieth birthday as well.
What this generation of Mingus devotees has come to realize is that we love his music.... and his contributions to the language of jazz. Strongly influenced by Ellington, Mingus' genius (and no, "genius" isn't too strong of a word) synthesized a wide range of influences from his abbreviated lifetime, including Mexican rhythms, blues, political concerns, bebop and classical music.
While during his workshops, Mingus insisted on "organized slop," the exceptional arrangers of his music for Tonight At Noon.... Three Or Four Shades Of Love
have organized away from the Mingus "slop" and more toward a respectful wonderment of the many glittering facets of his music.
In fact, probably the closest apparent disorganization that the Mingus Big Band comes to the Mingus of the small-group workshops is the incredible "Passions Of A Woman Loved." Predictable in its unpredictable changes of tempo, "Passions Of A Woman Loved" goes from a teasingly toe-tapping hard swing to a tripleted entry into an Alice In Wonderland musical descent into a world where anything can happen, including waltzes, counterpoint, jabbing accents, Latinesque vamps behind a "Dancing In The Dark" theme, slowdowns and speedups without warning and splashing of musical colors for pearlescent effect.
Yes, Sy Johnson's arrangement of "Passions Of A Woman Loved" is a classic unto itself. As is his version of "Black Saint & Sinner Lady," which reportedly no one has dared to record since Mingus did it in the 1960's.
While the arrangers' contributions to Tonight At Noon.... Three Or Four Shades Of Love
are immeasurable, not only for their understanding of Mingus' music but also for their expansion of it into a larger ensemble, so are the soloists. So is the section work.
Too numerous to mention, the soloists elevate the group with fire and respect for their overall addition to the totality of the tunes' effects. Seamus Blake, winner of this year's Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, proves without ostentation his worthiness for the award with an evocative lead-in to "Sweet Sucker Dance." The fact that this CD is the first recording of the Charles Mingus Orchestra means that we get to hear solos on Mingus themes by bassoonist Michael Rabinowitz or by French horn player Robert Routch.
Which makes sense. Mingus' music was as much about visualization as it was about sound. And the use of the Orchestra's complex colors illuminates hues that may have been subdued with minimal, or conventional, instrumentation.
The aspect of Tonight At Noon.... Three Or Four Shades Of Love
receiving the most press is Elvis Costello's singing of "Invisible Lady." He proves that indeed he was
inspired by Mingus. He moves with right-on pitch from a single-noted verse to an emotional yet controlled interpretation of a melody consisting of a three-beat tone quickened by the five-note fourth measure. The spiraling modulations conclude with logical resolution and the insistent landing on the ninth. Tonight At Noon.... Three Or Four Shades Of Love,
though, is a labor of love. And no doubt, Costello would agree that his effective performance is but one component of a larger project that pays tribute to a raging proponent of love.
Proving itself to be the most notable big band recording today, the Mingus Big Band--not to mention the Charles Mingus Orchestra--has produced a perfectly fitting tribute to the master composer whose compositions are just now being appreciated.
In conjunction with the April 23 release of Sue Mingus' autobiography, Tonight At Noon: A Love Story, Tonight At Noon.... Three Or Four Shades Of Love
provides musical evidence that love can't be reduced to a Hallmark card.
One of the most complex emotions that has inspired art through the ages, love, thematically depicted by Charles Mingus, is present in all the contradictions, powerful emotions and tenderness of the man himself.