When not on the road, the group's rotating cast of players performs weekly at Fez, a small underground club in New York City's East Village. There, renowned vets and former Mingus allies (saxophonist John Stubblefield, trumpeter Randy Brecker) and relative young-bloods (bassist Boris Kozlov, saxophonist Seamus Blake) work out dynamic arrangements of classic tracks such as "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and "Haitian Fight Song." Far from the usual note-for-note idol worship, the ensemble's work mirrors Mingus' objectives: fire, flow, punch, surprise, and dead-on musicianship. True to his legacy, the players feel compelled each night to push -- and thereby rediscover -- themselves, adding their own heartfelt meanings to the thorny compositions.
Over time the group has been recognized as one of the era's hottest large orchestras, frequently topping international jazz polls and twice being nominated for a Grammy. Its most recent album, 1999's Blues & Politics, is an impassioned marriage of Mingus' blues roots and outspoken social criticisms. If you plan to see one jazz repertory act this season, it should be Mingus Big Band.