Sunday, November 12, 2006

Charles Mingus - UCLA 1965 (Sunnyside, 2006)

This reissues one of the more rare items in the Mingus catalog, a concert originally intended for the Monterey Jazz Festival but which never came off for various reasons. So a few weeks later the band presented the music intended for Monterey at this college concert, recorded for Mingus' own record label. It was an unusual brass heavy Mingus band, notable for the presence of the fine trumpeter Hobart Dotson who made a great impression on the few recordings he made. The music was tipped away from the sanctified blues and soul that makes up the leaders most well known work. Some of the opening compositions have a very melancholy feel with Mingus' bowed bass giving the music a very mournful touch. Since this is a Mingus Workshop performance, you know there will be some drama, and the big man orders most of the band off the stage when he deems them not up to the task of performing his music correctly. This reduces "Bird & Diz" to a quartet performance, but ramps things up even further with some fine solos on this bebop tribute. Back together and with some more energetic material to inspire them, the band finally hits is stride on the ancient New Orleans standard "Muskrat Ramble" where the group gives a fiery if short performance. The finest moment however, comes on the anti-genocide song "Don't Let It Happen Here." Reading his powerful poem:

One day they came and they took the communists,
And I said nothing because I was not a communist.

Then one day they came and they took the people of the Jewish faith,
And I said nothing because I was had no faith left.

One day they came and they took the unionists,
And I said nothing because I was not a unionist.

One day they burned down the Catholic churches.
And I said nothing because I was born a Protestant.

Then one day they came and they took me. And I could say nothing because I was guilty as they were, For not speaking out and saying that all men have a right to freedom.

and then launching into a deep and powerful improvisation, Mingus and the group give a performance to rival Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" and Max Roach's "Freedom Now" as one of the finest jazz protest pieces and it still rings true today. While this album as a whole might not be one of Mingus' top-tier works, the power and dignity of "Don't Let It Happen Here" demands that this music be heard.

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