We are in the midst of what will hopefully become a deluge of recordings from people who are completely blissed out to be making them again. Bassist Boris Kozlov, one of the brain trust behind the Mingus Big Band, is one of those artists. His latest album First Things First is streaming at Bandcamp. “To say that it felt like a breath of fresh air after not being able to breathe is probably right on the money,” he recalls, after spending four marathon days in the studio last fall as both a bandleader and sideman.
Not only has the Mingus group returned to a weekly 7 PM Monday residency – moved to the Django after years at the late, lamented Jazz Standard – but Kozlov is also, predictably, a big part of the celebration of the Mingus centennial there this month. On the 14th at 7 PM, he’s playing with his longtime Mingus bandmate, pianist David Kikoski in a trio with Ari Hoenig on drums. Cover is $25
Kozlov is a thoughtful player: his new record reveals a much more eclectic sensibility than you might expect from someone associated with Mingus’ dark traditionalism. The band open with Page One, shifting from a tantalizingly lyrical ballad intro to a hard-hitting attack on Donny McCasliu’s catchy, funky Stevie Wonder-like tune. Pianist Art Hirahara drives the intensity upward to an understated, slithery Kozlov solo before the saxophonist takes it out with an irrepressible bounce.
McCaslin switches to alto flute and Kozlov to electric bass for Flow, a balmy tropical tableau livened with Behn Gillece’s twinkling vibraphone, drummer Rudy Royston providing a tiptoeing latin rhythm. The More Things Change, a Hirahara tune, has an avuncular, wryly retro cheer, with expressive tenor sax, vibes and piano solos
In the album liner notes, Kozlov recalls the time when Charlie Parker called up Stravinsky, put The Rite of Spring on the turntable and jammed out, to the composer’s amazement. I.S. Adventure is an expansive exploration of that concept, a rapidfire swing number based on one of those Stravinsky riffs, Gillece holding tight to the center as Royston takes a characteristically colorful charge.
Aftermath begins as an unsettled ballad, then the band make their way up to a big McCaslin payoff: after all we’ve been through, they seem to say, we’ve earned this. Kozlov goes electric again in Second Line Sally, a shuffling McCaslin tune reinvented with Hirahara on organ, the saxophonist contributing his most acerbic solo of many here
Kozlov bows a murky drone as the group rise from the tarpit while McCaslin plays scout in Viscous, a bitingly magical improvisational moment. Royston and then Kozlov fuel a determined swing as Gillece and Hirahara build a rainstorm around them. The group shift between a similarly edgy, unsettled ambience and an insistently funky drive in Mind Palace, a Gillece tune with some deliciously acidic McCaslin chromatics and a phantasmagorically enveloping vibraphone solo..
Kozlov’s tersely modal bass leads the group slowly toward a more summery, casually swinging ambience in Warm Sand, McCaslin slaying in both animated and reflective moments. Kozlov’s Russian accordionist uncle, the inspiration for Once a Fog in Babylon, seems to have been a big fan of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis: this swirly art-rock organ tune is an unexpected but spot-on diversion. The closing number, Eclipse, a mysterious, overtone-laced miniature, makes a good segue. This is not an album to multitask to: these guys caught a lot of magic in this bottle.