Monday, October 18, 2010

Jazz concert review: First concert in MacPhail's Mingus series sets the stage for more

Originally published at, Monday, Oct. 18, 2010

L2R: Adam Linz, Alden Ikeda, Chris Thomson
Inspired performances, a warm and relaxed vibe, and an ideal setting combined in a thoroughly enjoyable experience at Thursday’s “Meditations and Revelations” concert at MacPhail Center for Music’s Antonello Hall.

Created by MacPhail’s jazz coordinator Adam Linz, supported by a grant from the NEA, “Meditations and Revelations” is a four-concert series showcasing the music of jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus, one of the most important figures in 20th century American music. Thursday’s concert, titled “Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon” (after one of Mingus’s compositions), was the first in the series, and it got things off to a great start.

Bassist Linz and the other members of the trio — Chris Thomson on saxophone, Alden Ikeda on drums — have played Mingus’s music together for 10  years. Their camaraderie and comfort with the often daunting compositions was evident. The program included “Prayer for Passive Resistance,” the speedy showpiece “Slippers,” the beautiful Ellington-inspired ballad “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” “Dizzy Moods” (Tijuana meets Dizzy Gillespie), and “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting.”

About halfway through, Linz performed a solo section (which he introduced by joking with the audience, “If you don’t like solo bass, now’s the time to leave”). People often think that just because an instrument is big and low (like the bass or the tuba), it lacks range and expression. Slapping the fingerboard, dancing, humming and singing, Linz made his bass an orchestra in joyous interpretations of “Freedom,” “Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon,” and what he called “a mash-up from ‘Meditation.’ ”

All the musicians were in top form, whether playing together or soloing. The solos were delicious in the Antonello’s superb acoustics. (The Antonello is a small hall, seating 250 tops, wrapped in honey-colored wood and velvet curtains. Instruments don’t need amplification, musicians can speak from the stage without a mic, and even if you’re sitting in the back, you’re near the front.) Thomson’s tenor saxophone wailed, soared, and whispered; in the bebop bursts of “Slippers,” you could hear each note, and “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” was gorgeous. Ikeda used every voice in his drum kit, from bass to rims to splashy cymbals, adding layers of rhythm and texture to the mix.

Throughout, Linz told us bits about Mingus and the music they were playing. The mood was less concert hall, more livingroom — music shared among friends. That MacPhail is a community music school was reflected in the crowd, which included children who listened as closely as the grownups. (In a brief welcome prior to the concert, MacPhail president Paul Babcock told us that current students range in age from 6 mos. to 104 years.)

Many jazz musicians today play Mingus’s music. Tribute shows aren’t uncommon. In New York City, the Mingus Big Band, Mingus Dynasty, and Mingus Orchestra, all managed by the composer’s widow, Sue Mingus, play his works exclusively (there are plenty to choose from). But it’s rare for anyone else to devote a year to studying, performing, and teaching his challenging, mystifying work. That — along with the quality of the music, the musicianship, and the hall — makes this series worth noticing.

Future concerts will feature more music and more musicians. Dates have changed since the series was first announced; here’s the latest information:
  • Thursday, Nov. 18: “Meditations and Revelations” concert II: “So Long Eric.” A quintet: Michael Lewis, saxophone; Greg Lewis, trumpet; JT Bates, drums; Adam Linz, bass; Bryan Nichols, piano.
  • Thursday, Feb. 3: “Meditations and Revelations” concert III. Not yet titled. This concert will be performed by a nonet.
  • Thursday, May 12: “Meditations and Revelations” concert IV. Not yet titled. This concert will feature a septet.
All concerts are at 8 p.m. at Antonello Hall, MacPhail Center for Music, 501 South Second St., Minneapolis. Each will be preceded by a Q&A with the artists starting at 7 p.m. Tickets ($10 adult, $5 youth) available by phone (612-767-5250) or at MacPhail.

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