Charles Mingus: Mingus In Wonderland
This live date, recorded January 16, 1959 at Nonagon Art Gallery in New York City features John Handy on alto sax, Booker Ervin on tenor sax, Richard Wyands on piano, Dannie Richmond on drums, and Charles Mingus on bass. It's a chance to hear Mingus the bassist and Mingus the leader in action with a small group; the recording quality is excellent. The left channel provides the alto saxophone and the right channel provides the tenor saxophone. Mingus takes lengthy bass solos on three of the four numbers.
"Nostalgia In Times Square" has that unique harmony at the beginning between alto and tenor sax; it's distinctive. As Handy moves through his first solo, it's interesting to hear Mingus, with his assertive bass pattern, change the tempo two times. Keeping the same form, Mingus does it again while Ervin moves out with his solo. Then, after a lengthy bass excursion, Mingus exchanges fours with drummer Richmond. They bounce ideas off each other, Mingus quoting "Dixie" and "Camptown Races" and Richmond quoting Gene Krupa. The ballad "I Can't Get Started" is a feature for John Handy, who stayed with Mingus through 1958 and 1959 and returned to the fold after the leader's death to perform with Mingus Dynasty and presently the Mingus Big Band. His strong lyrical approach presents a smooth melodic foray from start to finish. Mingus soars on a lengthy solo that stays mostly with the melody; his lyrical ballad work includes tremolos that sustain and embellishments that are woven into the framework.
"No Private Income Blues" and "Alice's Wonderland" are lesser-known Mingus compositions. The up-tempo blues number features solo work from Handy and Ervin, one from each channel; Ervin's tenor is first and Handy second. It's interesting, this being a live session, to hear Ervin playing as he walks toward the microphone after Handy's solo; that begins a fiery exchange of fours and leads to twos and finally a rip-roaring two-saxophone blend where the different melodies are woven together. "Alice's Wonderland" is a slow piece with built-in imagery that finds the saxophones working both in unison and apart. Solo work from Mingus, Wyands, and Handy results in a lengthy and thought-provoking ballad. In the liner notes Nat Hentoff tells us that this tune and "Nostalgia In Times Square" were both written for the film "Shadows" produced by John Cassavetes. "Alice's Wonderland," however, was not used in the film; it was originally written for a love scene, and the sensitive approach used by Mingus for this one is quite special.