Monk and Mingus

Copacetic composers Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus were brought back to life this past weekend. No, it wasn’t the work of new science or an ancient spell; rather, this was the University of Chicago’s Jazz X-tet’s set, “Monk and Mingus.” The show took place at Room 43 in North Kenwood. The venue hosts jazz shows in conjunction with the Hyde Park Jazz Society, and invites jazz luminaries to come and play every Sunday evening.

In slick black ties, the musicians of the X-tet promised to make the night a classy affair. The audience reflected this sentiment, with a sartorial sensibility that tended more towards the chic than the drab. Sad clown paintings and colorful Picasso look-alikes hung from the walls, interspersed among other genre-appropriate abstract pieces. Above the congregation of musicians on stage towered the an upright bass. The instrument’s head had the shape of a treble clef, and acted as a kind of totem for the jazz devotees.

The X-tet mingled with Mingus and moseyed along with the Monk. At the start of Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song,” the bass player let loose a solo that purred like a Siamese kitten on cocaine. The bass line quickly turned from the feline to the motorized, gaining the frantic beauty of a freight train in heat. Rhapsodic sax solos soon found purchase against swaggering backbeats, as the cymbals’ gold splashed throughout. Long tracts of melody gave birth to cool eddies of harmony amidst the creative chaos. The show’s emotional range was distinctly bipolar–moods swung from jubilant to bluesy.

All this harmony took place under the groovy guidance of one Mwata Bowden–the X-tet’s conductor and a respected reed ringer in his own right. Clad in what appeared to be a crocodile-skin vest, Bowden energetically pontificated about Mingus and the Monk between each piece, offering quirky facts about the composers and extolling the beauty of their music.

The show closed on a lengthy composition by Mingus. Each musician soloed, flirting with the composer’s intentions. In harmonious order, the set wound down to a close. Amidst the bows and accolades, one dulcet fact emerged: regardless of what notes the X-tet played or didn’t play, their performance exhibited a feeling for Mingus and Monk that could only be described as a love supreme.