Metropole Orkest Modernise Mingus On Prom Night

Charlie Mingus famously encouraged musicians to play without charts, creating big-band scores with rare spontaneity and energy, so what he would have made of the Metropole Orkest's lush orchestrations in the rarefied atmosphere of the Royal Albert Hall is open to question. By the end though of this triumph, however, I suspect he'd have been out of his seat, charging towards the stage to congratulate all the players and Metropole conductor Jules Buckley (below).

He would have undoubtedly appreciated the superb musicianship of the Dutch-oriented orchestra, set up in 1945 and now plying its trade without much in the way of state funding. And he would have surely happily raised an eyebrow as the arrangements stretched his harmonies, adding new layers of colourful complexity to the chords with some gorgeous voicings, much in evidence on ballads like 'Celia' and 'I x Love'.

Mingus-Prom2

Great soloists were imported to punctuate the charts: soaring trumpeter Christian Scott (pictured top), the ubiquitous, supremely talented Shabaka Hutchings, here on bass clarinet ('Fables of Faubus', wow); golden-larynxed vocalist Kandace Springs (below); and YouTube all-dancing baritone sax star Leo Pellegrino.

But the Metropole members, some not even mentioned as soloists in the programme, were right up there with them – for one, Bart Van Lier (top) threatened to steal the show in the first half with his velvety trombone playing with effortless top end and Bird-esque Carmen quotes (I counted four). On soprano sax Marc Scholten lit up 'God Must Be a Boogie Man', his warm, round sound interplaying sensuously with Kandace Springs' lush vocal. This was a gorgeous version of the Joni Mitchell tune.

Prom-53 CR BBC-Mark-Allan 6

There were also exciting, lengthy solos from Metropole members Rik Mol on flugel – actually played on his neighbour Martijn de Laat's horn because his mouthpiece failed moments before – and Paul van der Feen on alto sax. The imaginative arranging was given full reign on 'Goodbye Porkpie Hat', where the lead was handed to guitarist Peter Tiehuis, whose Scofield-like touches gave the standard a new lease of life and an edge that most big-band versions lack. Joni Mitchell's seminal Mingus album received further exposure with a funky 'The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines', with Kandace Springs doing Joni's rapid-fire, interval-leaping scat full justice.

Prom-53 CR BBC-Mark-Allan 5

The orchestra were returning to the Proms after last year's prime-time TV Quincy Jones tribute triumph. That was a lively old night with stellar high-energy contributions, but even they paled by comparison with the finale here. 'Moanin'' is rip roaring off-the-cuff baritone sax feature. So who better than incredible showman Pellegrino (below), trading solos furiously with Scott, to push it possibly into even wilder territory than it has ever been before?

Prom-53 CR BBC-Mark-Allan 7

His dance moves, while simultaneously producing wicked blues-driven lines on his horn, owed something to Elvis, but also hip hop, and perhaps Lenny Pickett from Tower of Power, another hip-shaking saxist. Needless to say, Pellegrino brought the house down, his vivid pink hair remaining as immovable as his formidable technique. I asked my companion. "Did he overdo it?". The inevitable, smiling reply: "Naaaahhh, you think so?".

Surely the Proms have never seen anything like it. Now what would have Mingus made of that?

– Adam McCulloch 

– Photos by Mark Allan

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