Mingus Big Band, ﬁrst set
At: the Regattabar, Friday night
CAMBRIDGE -- Charles Mingus was a jazz giant, both a master bassist and the widest-ranging composer and bandleader this side of Duke Ellington. His music encompasses everything from Jelly Roll Morton to the avant-garde, and incorporates blues, gospel, Latin, and classical. Yet Mingus always sounds like Mingus: impetuous, angry, sensitive, cerebral, anguished, and ecstatic by turns.
The New York-based, 14-piece Mingus Big Band upholds his legacy. Friday night at the Regattabar, they presented what will likely stand as the year's most exhilarating jazz show. So tight they were loose, they embodied every note of Mingus's music with head, heart, and guts.
Sue Mingus, the composer's widow, briefly introduced the first set. Then the band, conducted by alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, ripped into Mingus's rapid-fire blues ''Boogie Stop Shuffle." Trombonist Frank Lacy, in a rounded, raspy, theatrical voice, sang the theme song from the 1960s TV show ''Spider-Man," which fit perfectly. Lauren Sevian soloed fluidly on the unwieldy baritone saxophone, building to a honking finish as the trumpets shrieked.
The temperature cooled, and trumpeter Kenny Rampton played a melodic, menthol-toned solo, accented with sly growls. Lacy's trombone solo started sparely, evolving to enjoyably rude eruptions. Donald Edwards contributed a boiling, bluesy drum solo, then Lacy reprised the lyrics as the band built up and up, ending in a barely contained frenzy.
For ''Invisible Lady," Lacy sang Elvis Costello's lyrics over a sumptuous carpet of saxophones. Conrad Herwig's creamy trombone solo wasted nary a note. Shaw's riveting alto solo began slow, breathy, and mysterious, then built slowly as his tone became edgy and his lines gained heat. At the tune's climax, Herwig returned for an impressive cadenza.
''Children's Hour of Dream" represented Mingus's classical mode. The band hugged every twist and turn of the music as it morphed from Ellingtonia to Stravinsky-like passages and back. The agitated ''Tensions" showcased trumpeter Eddie Henderson's scorching hard bop trumpet. Abraham Burton's craggy tenor saxophone solo evoked Coltrane. Bassist Boris Kaslov, the number's arranger, began his solo with leaping arpeggios and rapid strumming yet never devolved into mere technique, demonstrating his right to walk in Mingus's shoes.
''Song With Orange," the set's closer, began with Kenny Drew Jr.'s floridly romantic piano. The tune shifted beats and tempos several times before settling on a sanctified feel, with the audience and band clapping along. Wayne Escoffery's gospelly tenor sax bobbed and weaved. Then Earl McIntyre growled beguilingly on plunger-muted bass trombone.
The tune ended with swaggering, full-band shouts that ultimately exploded into the most cathartic cacophony of the evening.