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The Great Concert of Charles Mingus

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Album Review

Jazz fans in general and Charles Mingus fans in particular will want to know what makes this American issue of the 1964 Paris concert different from the previous CD version issued on import in 2000. This tour was notorious and left a lasting impression on Mingus, who related its stories and complaints for the rest of his life. This concert was notable because of the absence of trumpeter Johnny Coles, who had collapsed of a stomach ulcer two nights before. Mingus was scheduled to play on April 17 but canceled the gig in order to rework and re-rehearse the band to cover Coles' parts. This show was announced and billed for the 18th, but the musicians took the stage shortly after midnight on the 19th. The lineup of Mingus, Jaki Byard, Dannie Richmond, Eric Dolphy, and Clifford Jordan was, to say the least, formidable; they rose to the challenge and delivered one of the greatest live sets in recorded jazz history. These two CDs re-sequence the tunes in actual played order and place unreleased tracks in the proper order as well. The Byard solo ("A.T.F.W.," the initials of Art Tatum and Fats Waller) that opened the concert has never been issued before, because it had been deemed unfit for use due to technical difficulties. Likewise, after the introduction of the band and Coles' trumpet (it was displayed in its open case) comes the original version of "So Long Eric (Don't Stay Over There Too Long)." Previously a different version — one edited from performances over two evenings — was incorrectly titled "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." When it was correctly titled, it was the cobbled version. This one has never been issued before. What is so remarkable about this particular gig is how much it offers in a little over two hours, Mingus sums up the past and present and points to the future. While he was still ragging on the free jazz form, his use of dissonance here, in the manner in which Byard and Dolphy engage one another, is remarkable and stunning even in the deep blues of "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress Then Blue Silk." Likewise, quoting four Charlie Parker compositions in his "Parkeriana" tribute is almost mindblowing. The only thing left out here is an encore that was not recorded due to the fact it was performed, according to Bruno Guermonprez's liner notes, after three in the morning. The sound is fine, with the exception of the first two tracks, which were less than perfect from the original sound source, but the irritation is momentary given the quality of the music. Listeners finally have an accurate portrayal of one of jazz's great historic events, 40 years after its occurrence.


Born: 22 April 1922 in Nogales, AZ

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Irascible, demanding, bullying, and probably a genius, Charles Mingus cut himself a uniquely iconoclastic path through jazz in the middle of the 20th century, creating a legacy that became universally lauded only after he was no longer around to bug people. As a bassist, he knew few peers, blessed with a powerful tone and pulsating sense of rhythm, capable of elevating the instrument into the front line of a band. But had he been just a string player, few would know his name today. Rather, he was...
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