Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Conrad Herwig Reinvents Charles Mingus With Some Cuban Spices

Making an album of jazz classics inevitably invites ugly comparisons to the originals. But considering trombonist Conrad Herwig‘s longtime membership in the Mingus Big Band, he had an inside track to recording his latest album The Latin Side of Mingus, streaming at Spotify. Herwig can be an electrifying soloist and has the requisite sense of humor along with the fondness for latin sounds that go hand in hand with his instrument. Considering the formidable lineup he assembled for the record, it’s a fair bet that the septet he’ll have for his upcoming three nights this month at the Django will be just as strong. He’s there on Jan 17, 24 and 31, with sets at 7:30 and 9 PM; cover is $25.

This isn’t Herwig’s first adventure into remaking canonical repertoire as latin jazz, but it’s arguably his best. The band – Randy Brecker and Alex Sipiagin on trumpets, Craig Handy on tenor sax, Bill O’Connell on piano, Luques Curtis on bass, Robby Ameen on drums and Camilo Molina on congas – have a lot of fun with a Mingus mix of both iconic and more obscure but equally slashing material.

They don’t waste time reinventing Gunslinging Bird as a sleek, pouncingly direct platform for machinegunning trumpet and trombone solos, O’Connell subtly edging from dissociative postbop into more distinctly Cuban territory. Boogie Stop Shuffle is an interesting choice. It’s hard to top the gleeful noir bustle of the original. But Herwig’s decision to slow it down a bit with a churning congra groove,  simmering trombone and trumpet solos and O’Connell finally reaching escape velocity, makes sense in context.

No Dejes Que Pase Aquí is a remake of Don’t Let It Happen Here, which couldn’t be more relevant considering that it’s based on Pastor Martin Niemoller’s warning about who Nazis come for before they come for you. Ruben Blades delivers Mingus’ voiceover in both the original English and then Spanish: Herwig’s flamenco-noir brass arrangement and phantasmagorical polyrhythms raise the intensity exponentially. Great song!

Herwig’s choice to redo Goodbye Pork Pie Hat with a slinky, altered guaguanco groove results in an aptly wistful but simmering atmosphere, Handy switching to flute for a charanga-flavored break before a scrambling O’Connell solo. Hora Decubitus is considerably more suave than Mingus’ own frantic urban tableau, with solos in a chattering round.

O’Connell plays twinkling Rhodes electric piano behind resonant, mutedly orchestral horns and a tiptoeing clave in Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love, Handy anchoring in a grittier edge with his solo. All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother is the big surprise choice here. It’s a lot more expansive and doesn’t have the goofy camaraderie that trumpeter Ted Curson and drummer Dannie Richmond made so memorable in the Mingus quartet version.

The album’s final cut is a lively take of Better Get Hit in Your Soul with the band bookending a New Orleans-flavored chart around a terse Brecker trumpet break.

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January 13, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment