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|Published in the Los Angeles Times
|Saturday, September 29, 2001
|Jazz Review: Intriguing Match Doesn't Quite Jell
|By Don Heckman, Special to The Times
When a collaboration between Elvis Costello and the Charles Mingus Orchestra was first
announced as the opening event in the UCLA Performing Arts Center's fall season, the
combination seemed bizarre. Was it a wildly imaginative, off-the-wall blending of creative
musical entities, or a calculated effort by new UCLA Live director David Sefton to further
attract the 25-45 age range demographic?
Both, maybe. What
actually surfaced at Royce Hall on Thursday night was indeed an impressive pair of
creative entities, but without much in the way of blending.
In its bifurcated way, the program had a lot to offer. The Mingus Orchestra, an
11-piece variation on the Mingus Big Band, employs instrumentation that offers the
potential for a wide interpretive approach to the composer's work. The results, in the
instrumental portions of the program, were marvelous: spirited romps through the
gospel-driven energies of "Slop" and "Haitian Fight Song"; lovely
renderings of "Myself When I Am Real" and "Eclipse," in which arranger
Sy Johnson used the subtle colorations of the group's instrumentation to reach into the
heart of the compositions.
Further enhancing the
Mingus selections, soloists such as pianist Dave Kikoski, tenor saxophonist Shamus Blake,
trombonist Conrad Herwig and bassoonist Michael Rabinowitz--offering a rare display of
jazz improvisation on the instrument--brought further life and vigor to this timeless
The other side of the performance was equally compelling. The Costello selections
reached across a good portion of his career, from "Watching the Detectives" to
"Almost Blue," "Clubland," "Stalin Malone" and "Chewing
Gum." In these numbers, the Mingus Orchestra played a supportive role, allowing
Costello to reach out directly to the fans who cheered the opening bars of virtually all
his songs. Despite the unfamiliar settings and poorly balanced sound (rare for Royce
Hall), Costello was in fine form, moving easily from demanding intensity to lighthearted
The problems arose in the efforts to combine two distinctly divergent artistic views.
Costello's lyrics for Mingus' "Don't Be Afraid, the Clown's Afraid, Too,"
"Tonight at Noon," "This Subdues My Passion" and "Self Portrait
in Three Colors"--despite their literary qualities and poetic flow--offered expansion
where none was required.
Mingus' use of such titles served
an epigrammatic purpose--the focus for instrumental compositions. That said, Costello
deserves credit for the effort and the quality of the results. Unfortunately his words
(like Joni Mitchell's in her Mingus songs) bear the same relationship to Mingus' melodies
that an elaborate descriptive essay would to a Japanese haiku . They're simply not needed.
What is needed is for
Mingus' music to receive the attention it deserves and is still not receiving. Given the
enthusiastic response to this pairing, which prompted the Thursday show being added to the
originally scheduled Friday performance, there is seemingly an audience for Sefton's
eclectic attempts at synthesis that are scattered throughout his season. But for this
particular evening, there was too little likelihood that the oil and water of its two
disparate elements would ever fuse into Sefton's goal of collaborative innovation.
2002 Los Angeles Times
|Wehaitians.com, the scholarly journal of
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