Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Charles Mingus - Cornell 1964 (Blue Note, 2007)

This two CD set presents a previously unreleased concert of arguably bassist and composer Charles Mingus's greatest band, with Eric Dolphy on alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet, Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, Johnny Coles on trumpet, Jaki Byard on piano and Dannie Richmond on drums. Recorded before the bands triumphal tour of Europe, it shows much of the material mastered on that tour in it's transitional state. The concert begins with a couple of solo features, Byard's "ATFW You" allowing him to break into some stride piano in honor of Fats Waller and Art Tatum, and then Mingus follows with a solo take on Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady." The full band joins in for an epic thirty-one minute version of the Mingus anti-segregation classic "Fables of Faubus." The microphones aren't strong enough to pick up the spoken lyrics that accompany this song, but the music comes through well, featuring a lengthy and strong Mingus solo followed by a wonderful Dolphy interlude in alto. Microphone troubles also mar "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress" rendering much of Coles trumpet solo inaudible, but thankfully Eric Dolphy, who takes solo honors throughout this concert, is loud and clear. "Meditations" and "So Long Eric" follow, both of which are very lengthy performances with some spots where the band drifts. Mingus often referred to his band as a "workshop" and you can really hear that philosophy at work here as the band probes at the raw materials of the music, trying to shape and mold it into something that they can make a statement with. It is the experiments here that set the stage for the extraordinary music recorded on official and unofficial releases from the 1964 European tour. The band even manages to make interesting jazz out of "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" before ending the concert with a fine rendition of "Jitterbug Waltz" featuring some extraordinary Eric Dolphy flute playing. The recorded sound of the performance does leave a bit to be desired as I mentioned. I don't know the provenance of the recording, whether it was done by the students or the group themselves, but the sound quality equates to that of a good bootleg recording. This is a good warts-and-all recording of a great band playing a one-nighter on the college circuit. Better performances would follow including the extraordinary Paris performance released by Sue Mingus as Revenge, but that's not to slight this package which will be savored by Mingus fans.

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