Confrontational, sprawling and historic, this resurrected March 1964 performance by one of his favorite bandsJohnny Coles (trumpet) and Clifford Jordan (saxophone) with favorite sons Dannie Richmond (drums), Jaki Byard (piano) and Eric Dolphy (reeds, flutes)presents the muse of bassist Charles Mingus in all its terrible glory.
Split here between two CDs, this performance begins with two more or less solo pieces. Byard renders an amazing unaccompanied performance on "ATFW," his combination tribute to Art Tatum and Fats Waller," blistering runs into complete stops, an elegant waltz time passage and then boogie-woogie. Mingus next commands "Sophisticated Lady" in mostly solo bass except for the occasionally whispered piano chord.
Each CD hangs from its thirty-minute centerpiece, each a storied Mingus original. "Fables of Faubus" purposefully swings its wobbly, roly-poly melody on the first CD, with Richmond dropping bass drum bombs that literally make Mingus shout for more; Mingus, of course, solos with dexterity and vision that makes you wonder how anyone's fingers could keep up with such a torrent of ideas. Disc one ends with a spirited collective rampage through "Take the 'A' Train." The Mingus/Richmond rhythm engine builds up locomotive powerMingus pummels this rhythm, almost daring Richmond to keep paceas Byard's boogie piano solo rocks the caboose harder than Ellington's more refined piano style.
"Meditations" open disc two in the serious, contemplative spirit communally created between Mingus' bowed playing, Byard's studious piano and Dolphy's flute. While Cole's trumpet and Jordan's saxophone rip through its subsequent tumult, Byard sounds bent on knocking down structures that the other ensemble players build up. Written to honor Dolphy, who had confided plans to leave Mingus' employ after this sextet's scheduled European tour, Mingus' jumpy blues, "So Long Eric," sounds more joyous than your usual farewell. (Dolphy remained in Europe after this tour, suddenly lapsed into a diabetic coma and died in June 1964 at age 36.) Dolphy's dancing flute is also the perfect instrument to lead the evening's finale, Fats Waller's fun and lively "Jitterbug Waltz."
As it moves so assuredly through this program of Mingus originals cast in Strayhorn, Ellington and Waller, you almost wonder if Live at Cornell is the sound of Mingus writing his own history of American jazzor perhaps even more, the sound of him writing his own place within it.
Personnel: Johnny Coles: trumpet; Eric Dolphy: alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet; Clifford Jordan: tenor saxophone; Jaki Byard: piano; Charles Mingus: bass; Dannie Richmond: drums.