By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Mondo Grosso performs at Sugar, Thursday, October 11.
When Elvis Costello performed with the Charles Mingus Orchestra at UCLA‘s Royce Hall on Friday night, it was not merely as singer, instrumentalist, songwriter or former new-wave rocker anthropologizing in the big, sophisticated world of jazz. It was, instead, as a bona fide bandleader, welding dizzyingly complex tunes to weird lyrics and singing them all like he’s squeezing passion from a narrow-necked tube. Once in a while he even screams. I mean, screams -- howls like a demon, shrieks like an animal about to strike.
And who can blame him? Every musician in the orchestra curated by Mingus‘ widow, Sue, proved devastatingly gifted: drummer Johnathan Blake and acoustic bassist Boris Kozlov bobbing and weaving around each other’s lines, Dave Kikoski slouching over his nimble piano playing, Alex Foster directing it all with body language and a complement of woodwinds. There was also the wonder of Michael Rabinowitz on a jazz bassoon -- a novelty, a technical marvel, and an honest emotional wallop. As for Costello himself, his fans are forever vindicated: “Watching the Detectives” in a big-band setting by Roy Nathanson stands up as a spectacular feat of macabre poetry; “Almost Blue” has become a sure-fire jazz standard, with a sufficiently plaintive melody to function independently of lyrics.
“There‘s no money-back guarantee on future happiness,” Costello spat on “The Long Honeymoon,” his 1982 Imperial Bedroom ode to the precise details of marital dystopia. Those gravelly lyrics against a fluid jazz line may seem to some incongruous, but Costello, for all his respectability, has not lost his rebellious edge or sacrificed his right to sneer at convention. While others might be tempted to smooth out a legendary bassist’s raggedness, Costello roughs it up with confidence, as if it‘s his job. And maybe it is: “Don’t Be Afraid, the Clown‘s Afraid Too,” Mingus titled one of his songs. Who could elaborate better than Costello on a thought like that? (Judith Lewis)