thu 25/07/2024

Prom 53 review: Buckley, Metropole Orkest - extravagantly entertaining jazz | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 53 review: Buckley, Metropole Orkest - extravagantly entertaining jazz

Prom 53 review: Buckley, Metropole Orkest - extravagantly entertaining jazz

Lavishly enjoyable homage to the brilliantly spiky bass pioneer Charles Mingus

Judging the mood perfectly: Trumpeter Christian Scott on scintillating form© Mark Allan/BBC

Think Charles Mingus, and it’s unlikely that a neon-coiffed saxophonist playing acoustic house while doing a solo can-can around the stage will come to mind. A highly original, introspective figure whose best music is a thrillingly rumbustious fusion of bluesy melody and gruff rhythmic experiment, Mingus is a bold choice for the usually lush-toned Metropole Orkest.

Yet conductor Jules Buckley assembled a stellar line-up of mostly young soloists, and he oversaw a Prom of extravagantly entertaining music - sometimes faithful to the spirit of Mingus.

The programme included Mingus’ best-known instrumental pieces from the late 1950s, as well as vocal arrangements from both his early (“Weird Nightmare”, 1946) and late career: “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” (1974) and Joni Mitchell’s “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines” (1979), supposedly based on stories about Mingus. Though the songs, performed superbly by Nashville-trained Kandace Springs, are perhaps less closely identified with Mingus, they were better suited to the Metropole in this venue.  

Springs gave a sultry rendition of “God Must Be a Boogie Man”, also from Mitchell’s Mingus album, while for “Weird Nightmare” her duet with Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet was beautifully eerie. The orchestral balance for the vocal numbers worked much better, and the strings were able to make themselves heard. It’s boring for critics to nitpick about the Royal Albert Hall’s temperamental acoustic, yet there were familiar problems with definition and balance, especially in the busier instrumental pieces. The dialogue between Christian Scott’s trumpet and Bart van Lier’s trombone In “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, for example, was extremely slick, but made the string section almost inaudible.  

Saxophonist Leo PellegrinoMingus’ fierce political radicalism comes through most clearly in “Fables of Faubus”, a satirical protest about Arkansas governor Faubus’ use of the National Guard to obstruct the integration of black school pupils, and the most effective of the instrumental pieces. The Metropole’s brass boomed across the hall in a heavy, swinging, sarcastic leer that amplified Mingus’ righteous anger, while Christian Scott’s piercing trumpet screamed, then disintegrated into cacophony. Of the soloists, Scott and Hutchings judged the mood perfectly, while the Metropole’s veteran trombonist, Bart van Lier, gave a self-consciously show-stopping performance that was brilliant but not entirely in keeping with Mingus’ spiky iconoclasm.    

The fourth instrumental soloist was in a category all of his own. With New York trio Too Many Zooz, baritone saxophonist Leo Pellegrino (pictured above) is known for the invention of brass house, and for the uninitiated he gave a demonstration during “I x Love”. Goose-stepping about the stage in dusky pink suit and dayglo hair like some mind-boggling fusion of Michael Jackson and Monty Python, honking accelerating dance beats, he gave surely one of the zaniest performances ever seen at a Prom. As a visual spectacle, and a demonstration of both musical and athletic virtuosity, it was extraordinary; as homage to the cerebral Mingus, it was absurd, though that didn’t stop the audience loving it.  

Buckley is an engaging figure on the podium, with a warm audience rapport, and his mission to bring a new audience to orchestral music now has, after numerous Prom outings, both momentum and credibility. The essential Mingus could probably have been better celebrated with a big band; the Metropole Orkest used more effectively for a mainly vocal programme, since the strings, and even the piano, were swallowed by the brass during several brass-led instrumental numbers.

Yet it was impossible not to smile at the thrilling musical variety act the Metropole put on, even when some of it went against the grain of Mingus’ originals. The original spirit of the Proms was about showmanship, and new audiences. There were surely many among the listeners giving the band a standing ovation who will now turn to original Mingus for the first time.  


Goose-stepping about the stage in dusky pink suit and dayglo hair, Pellegrino gave one of the zaniest performances ever seen at a Prom


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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