When the legendary jazz composer Charles Mingus died last Jan. 4, he left behind two unfinished projects. One was Me, Myself An Eye featuring a 29 piece band that Mingus directed from his wheelchair. The orchestra includes such "fusion" artists as guitarist Larry Coryell, drummer Steve Gadd and the Brecker brothers. Mingus was one of the few jazz giants who refused to ignore the new electronic jazz musicians. Mingus is probably the only one to successfully incorporate them into his own unique sound.
His other project was a series of collaborations with folk-rock singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. Mingus wrote six melodies for her to set lyrics to and sing. The results of her efforts are on her new album, Mingus. The record contains three of Mingus' new songs with Mitchell's lyrics; two new Mitchell songs inspired by Mingus; Mitchell's new lyrics to Mingus' classic "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"; and several short clips from taped interviews with Mingus.
Mitchell's backing band is three-fourths of Weather Report - Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter and Peter Erskine - with Herbie Hancock replacing the absent Joe Zawinul. The music avoids the dry tunelessness of Mitchell's recent albums. Her lyrics are also more vibrant than they've been recently. One of her best choruses is this description of the dying Mingus: "But now Manhattan holds me/To a chair in the sky/With the bird in my ears/And boats in my eyes."
Guitarist Larry Coryell, who is featured prominently on two of Mingus' last three releases, will open for James Taylor at the Merriweather Post Pavilion August 2-4. Joni Mitchell will appear there August 22-23. Rumor is that her musicians from the new album may tour with her. At any rate, her performance at the May 6 anti-nuclear rally in Washington showed her singing both old songs like "Circle Game" and new songs like "God Must Be a Boogie Man" with encouraging fervor.
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