The aptly titled The Great Concert of Charles Mingus
is an April '64 Paris performance by one of the bassist's all-time great bands. Featuring Eric Dolphy on reeds and flute, Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, Jaki Byard on piano, and Dannie Richmond on drums, this two-disc set is the definitive, track-by-track performance of the concert. An earlier CD version of this event had an altered track order, less music, and inferior sound quality compared to this release.
The concert itself has eight tracks, with Byard's solo tribute to Art Tatum and Fats Waller on "A.T.F.W." starting the show. On this previously unreleased track, Byard's skills are impressive in his imitation of these two titans. The concert continues with Mingus presenting the musicians as well as Johnny Coles' trumpet. Coles had fallen ill on stage two nights earlier from a perforated gastric ulcer, remaining hospitalized for the duration of the tour. The missing trumpet parts caused Mingus to rethink the orchestration on several of these tunes and delay this concert for a day. The band, as heard here, responds skillfully to the challenge, yielding over two hours of excellent, at times transcendent, jazz.
The high praise starts with "So Long Eric," Mingus' rousing farewell to the departing Dolphy (he remained in Europe while the rest of the group returned to America). Covering nearly 22 minutes, the song is a constant churn of solos and group interactions presenting straight-ahead and free jazz motions in remarkably seamless movements. More than any other composer in jazz, Mingus sought a common ground between the music's rich past and its expectant future. The resulting art from these urges, as on "Parkeriana" and the awesome "Meditations on Integration," yielded masterpieces. The Charlie Parker dedication, for example, marries several of Bird's bebop riffs to various differing tempos so as to gain a fresh, up to date, perspective of his music, or as Mingus tells the audience, "to recapture many of the feelings some of us had for Charles Parker." Placed in such a constant stream, Parker's works come through as diverse and monumental, which, of course, they were.
The true summation of Mingus' compositional powers, though, comes on the finale. After letting the Parisian audience know of his displeasure with the blatant racism and hate of his native land, he and the whole band jump into the intricate workings of "Meditations on Integration." Again, past, present and future make appearances as the tune evolves from a slight jaunt to an incredible, multidimensional force. When Mingus goes solo on "Sophisticated Lady," he is nearly as charming, with a minimalist skirting of the melody proving to be as effective, if more poetic, than the usually recognized theme.
Tragically, Dolphy would pass away two months after this concert from a diabetic shock. Performing on one his final outings, Dolphy is wonderful to hear within the rich Mingus tapestry. An all around remarkable jazz document, The Great Concert of Charles Mingus is one of last year's better reissues.
Personnel: Charles Mingus- bass; Eric Dolphy- flute, alto sax, bass clarinet; Clifford
Jordan- tenor sax; Jaki Byard- piano; Dannie Richmond- drums; Johnny Coles- trumpet