Monday, December 03, 2012

Charles Mingus - The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65 (Mosaic, 2012)

The great bassist and composer Charles Mingus was arguably at the height of his powers in 1964, leading an awesome band that included Eric Dolphy on alto saxophone, bass clarinet and flute, Johnny Coles on trumpet, Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, Jaki Byard on piano and Danny Richmond on drums. The first two concerts on this collection feature this band, first from The Town Hall in New York City and then from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. The setlists are roughly similar, but the playing is totally unique throughout. Mingus and Byard get solo spots on “Sophisticated Lady” and “A.T.F.W.” respectively, and there are lengthy performances dedicated to Dolphy (who was planning to leave the band) on “Playing With Eric” and “So Long Eric.” As great as those epics are, the band ups the ante even further with “Parkeriana” a medley of songs written by or associated with Charlie Parker that deftly shows the musical link from Parker to Dolphy and beyond. As Marc Myers wisely points out, much of Mingus's music of this period was protest music, and one of his most famous protest songs “Fables of Faubus” gets a half-hour long workout to end the Amsterdam concert. After Dolphy’s departure and tragic death, Mingus regrouped, with Lonnie Hillyer on trumpet, Charles McPherson on alto saxophone and John Handy on tenor saxophone joining Byard, Richmond and himself for a performance at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival. Opening with a medley of Duke Ellington favorites, the group cruises beautifully through the music of Mingus’s hero before the real treat comes. Mingus adds six more horns including longtime friend Buddy Collette for a lush and powerful big band version of “Meditations On Integration.” Mingus returned to Monterey in 1965 for a short performance that included his great spoken word and music piece “Don’t Let It Happen Here” and an unexpected version of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The package ends with a performance from Minneapolis in 1965 that nicely wraps together many of the themes that Mingus had been exploring during this period. There is a civil rights/protest song, the haunting “A Lonely Day In Selma, Alabama/Freedom,” strong bebop to freebop with “So Long Eric” and “Bird Preamble” and even a medley of standards. This is a heavy set of music, Mingus brought all of his legendary emotion to bear on two years of extraordinary music. After this, he would be off the scene for the most part for a number of years with health problems before returning in the early 1970’s. Mosaic did their usual fine job putting together this set, with wonderful liner notes and photographs and the best sound quality that live music of this period would allow. Charles Mingus - The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65 - Mosaic

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