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Kevin Mahogany 

Pussy Cat Dues: The Music of Charles Mingus
(Enja)

There's far more instrumental than vocal music on this collection from silken-voiced Kevin Mahogany. But the Kansas City singer is certainly one of the guiding spirits on this memorable live recording (culled from a performance before a wildly appreciative audience in Cologne in early 1995), which also features Charles McPherson, a dynamic, Sonny Stitt-inspired tenorman who worked with Mingus in 1965, and Jimmy Knepper, a buttery trombonist who worked with him from 1957 to 1961. Backed by the robust, swinging WDR Big Band under the direction of arranger Bill Dobbins, Mahogany and his mates barrel through a diverse collection of Mingus tunes heavily based on Mingus Ah Um, Mingus' extraordinary 1959 debut for Columbia.

Mahogany is particularly seductive in articulating Roland Kirk's lyrics to the Lester Young homage "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" (rock guitarist Jeff Beck covered the tune to extraordinary effect on his great Wired album in 1975) and on "Eclipse," the introspective blues song that opens the record. The band never flags; rather, it builds in intensity, careering through a punchy, revival-meeting "Better Git Hit in Your Soul" before ending on "Tonight at Noon," a twisting, moody piece featuring Dennis Mackrel's powerful drumming. Mingus, who died in 1979, has inspired everyone from Joni Mitchell to Mingus Dynasty, and Mahogany, a vocalist whose attempts to cross R&B with jazz in the late '90s were somewhat compromised, stays true to his roots here, effectively aligning his talents with music that simply doesn't date.

More by Carlo Wolff

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