Charles Mingus: Cornell 1964 & In Paris: The Complete America Sessions
One of the recent topics discussed among jazz journalists is whether it is fair to judge newly unearthed recordings against modern ones. The debate began with last year's issue of At Carnegie Hall by Monk's Quartet with Coltrane. Kind of hard to compete with that. But for this reviewer's money, a more recent discovery is even more significant.
Of all of jazz' iconic groups - Miles' '60s Quintet, Coltrane's Quartet - one that gets short shrift is bassist Charles Mingus' sextet from 1964. For that, Mingus' "Underdog status can be blamed as can the continued underappreciation of Eric Dolphy. But also at fault is pianist Jaki Byard's relative lack of exposure or that drummer Dannie Richmond spent most of his career with Mingus. Whatever the reason, the major label release of a previously unavailable concert of this group may change some pecking orders.
Cornell 1964 is particularly special because most if not all of the other dates from the spring/summer 'tours' of the sextet are available, either legitimately or on bootleg. This Mar. 18th gig predates The Town Hall Concert by 17 days and the April Europe tour by almost a month and is a chance to hear Dolphy in his prime yet just months from his premature death. It is also a document of the sextet at full strength, trumpeter Johnny Coles only making a handful of performances before becoming ill. Without too many superlatives thrown around, this group was one of jazz' strongest of the period, or any period, with major innovators on almost every instrument. And equally as important are Mingus' compositions, not often attempted by others but in direct lineage from Duke Ellington. Both discs are revelatory from the beginning solo piano "ATFW to 30-minute versions of "Fables of Faubus and "Meditations . But especially appealing is the first version of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling (played once in Europe), a rare tribute to Duke with "Take The "A Train and the only known instance of Mingus playing Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz , thickened up as only Chef Mingus could.
Another two-disc set is an interesting complement. The Complete America Session brings together two LPs worth of Mingus' 1970 band with Eddie Preston, Charles McPherson, Bobby Jones, Byard and Richmond. Originally available on the extremely sketchy yet essential America label, these tracks from Blue Bird and Pithycanthropus Erectus (sic) are from an underdocumented period in his career.
The material is a strange assortment from various eras: the first takes of "Love is a Dangerous Necessity and covers "I Left My Heart in San Francisco (Cross & Cory) and "Blue Bird (Charlie Parker); "Pithecanthropus Erectus and "Reincarnation of a Lovebird from the '50s; and "Peggy's Blue Skylight from the '60s. And while when listened to directly after Cornell 1964 slightly unfavorable comparisons can be made, remember that Mingus demanded more than most musicians could offer and so any band he led is more than worth hearing. The longer tunes are more exciting but the shorter ones demonstrate Mingus' concern for strong composing, his or others.
A second disc of alternate takes is fascinating, much like similar ones on the recent Sunnyside reissue of Mingus' UCLA Concert, for their insight. His music was complex, his personality more so and these snippets illuminate some of his mystique and mission.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: ATFW You; Sophisticated Lady; Fables of Faubus; Orange Was the Colour of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk; Take the "A" Train; Meditations; So Long Eric; When Irish Eyes Are Smiling; Jitterbug Waltz.
Personnel: Charles Mingus: bass; Eric Dolphy: alto sax, flute, bass clarinet; Johnny Coles: trumpet; Clifford Jordan: tenor sax; Jaki Byard: piano; Dannie Richmond: drums.
In Paris - The Complete America Session
Tracks: Reincarnation Of A Lovebird; Peggy's Blue Skylight; Love Is A Dangerous Necessity; Blue Bird; Pithecanthropus Erectus; Disc 2: Reincarnation Of A Lovebird [warm up and false start]; Reincarnation Of A Lovebird [second false start]; Reincarnation Of A Lovebird [third false start]; Reincarnation Of A Lovebird [incomplete]; Peggy's Blue Skylight [first false start]; Peggy's Blue Skylight [second false start]; Peggy's Blue Skylight [third false start and rehearsal]; Peggy's Blue Skylight [alternate (fastversion)]; Blue Bird [incomplete]; Reprise; Love Is A Dangerous Necessity [first false start]; Love Is A Dangerous Necessity [second false start]; Pithecanthropus Erectus [first take, incomplete]; Pithecanthropus Erectus [reprise]; Pithecanthropus Erectus [rehearsal]; Pithecanthropus Erectus [false start]; Pithecanthropus Erectus [to the end]; Pithecanthropus Erectus [Mingus explanations, restart].
Personnel: Charles Mingus: acoustic bass; Eddie Preston: trumpet; Charles McPherson: alto saxophone; Bobby Jones: tenor saxophone; Jaki Byard: piano; Dannie Richmond: drums.