It was an experiment.
Bringing together two very dominant and commanding musical elements on the same stage, Elvis Costello and the Charles Mingus Orchestra, was indeed an exciting way to kick off the new performing arts season at Royce Hall last Thursday night.
Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn't.
The Orchestra sincerely amazed the capacity crowd with its compelling musical performance, and Costello was without a doubt on top of his game as a singer/songwriter.
However, Costello's powerful vocal delivery seemed to be, at times, fighting against the strong sound of the Mingus Orchestra, whose compositions were written to stand up by themselves.
Nevertheless, as a whole the show was an amazing and extraordinary experience.
Costello took turns as a singer, narrator and spectator during the two hour-plus performance; he controlled the center stage one minute and disappeared into the shadows on the sides of the stage the next.
Throughout the first and second sets Costello retreated to a stool on the side of the stage, where he listened to the Orchestra's unaccompanied pieces.
The concert included Mingus Orchestra songs, featuring Costello singing his own lyrics with some of the pieces, as well as a few Costello tunes that were rearranged for the 11-piece ensemble.
Some of the most interesting moments of the evening were when the Mingus Orchestra performed alone, displaying their unique music. Filled with exciting trumpet, drum and bass solos, Mingus' compositions were made to entertain, and are an amazing addition to the legacy of American music.
The crowd, which was mostly there for Costello, responded loudly to Mingus' compositions, especially the stirring "Haitian Fight Song."
Costello appeared for the first time in his capacity as UCLA's first artist-in-residence. He emerged onto the stage to loud cheers from the crowd and seemed to feel right at home at Royce Hall.
"It is nice to be back," Costello said to the
Costello was extremely relaxed as he seemed to turn the otherwise ostentatious Royce Hall auditorium into a more intimate venue. He swayed about the stage while singing and discussed the music with the crowd on multiple occasions, even taking the time to explain some of his lyrics.
The second set picked up the energy a little, starting off with Costello's song "Chewing Gum," — arranged by Roy Nathanson. Costello also performed his song "Almost Blue" — during the second set and included his tune "Watching the Detectives" in the encore.
The evening came to a close with the entire audience on its feet, giving the performers a well-deserved standing ovation.
The fact that the combination of Costello and Mingus did not present the ideal results that were hoped for should not detract too much from the significance of the event.
David Sefton, UCLA's performing arts director, brought an experiment that would be presented onstage in front of a full crowd and, like most scientific experiments, received some mixed results.
Nonetheless, UCLA Performing Arts, Costello and the Mingus Orchestra deserve to be commended for their audacious spirit and willingness to present something new to a curious crowd.