Four hours of previously unissued, premier-league music by Charles Mingus
is something to shout about, and @ Bremen 1964 & 1975
is about as good as the bassist and composer's posthumously released live albums get. Four CDs chronicle two extended, intense performances recorded in Germany by Radio Bremen. Both gigs featured all-star bands and both are typically and gloriously uplifting Mingus melanges of through-composition and in-the-moment improvisation touching on blues and roots, bop, hard bop, New Orleans marching band, swing, free jazz and political protest.
In 1964, Mingus was touring Europe with a sextet with trumpeter Johnny Coles
, reed player Eric Dolphy
, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan
, pianist Jaki Byard
, and his longtime drummer Dannie Richmond
. The band never recorded a studio album and, though other live recordings exist, made in Europe and in New York before setting off, @ Bremen 1964 & 1975
is an important addition to the Mingus librarynot least because the tour was Dolphy's last project with Mingus, as he planned to settle in Europe at its conclusion, only to pass away in Berlin two months after the Bremen gig.
The 1975 European tour was made by another cracking band, a quintet with trumpeter Jack Walrath
, tenor saxophonist George Adams
, pianist Don Pullen
and, again, Dannie Richmond
. The material is taken from two Atlantic studio albums, Changes One
and Changes Two
, recorded by the same lineup in New York the previous year. It endures as one of the most enjoyable bands Mingus ever led, yet is often overlooked in favour of his earlier groups. Discs three and four here are essentially live performances of the two studio albums and are magnificent. Pullen is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and Adams and Walrath are out of sight, too. The audio quality on these two discs is superb.
The set lists in 1964 and 1975 span frequently performed and less familiar material. "Fables Of Faubus," first recorded on Mingus Ah Um
(Columbia, 1959)though without its politically explosive lyrics, which the label would not allow to be includedis performed on both occasions. At the other end of the spectrum is "Hope So Eric" (a.k.a. "So Long Eric"), in 1964 a new addition to the book, composed by Mingus in reluctant response to Dolphy's intention to relocate to Europe. Salutes to Mingus' hero Duke Ellington
are included in both performances, either written by Ellington ("Sophisticated Lady") or by Mingus in tribute to him ("Duke Ellington's Sound Of Love").
Another of Mingus' heroes, Charlie Parker
, gets a tip of the hat in "Parkeriana," a medley of tunes that Parker made famous, such as Thelonious Monk
's "52nd Street Theme" and his own "Ornithology." There are two pieces by band members: Jaki Byard's "Piano Solo" (a.k.a. "A.T.F.W.U.S.A."), written in honour of his formative influences Art Tatum
and Fats Waller
, and Jack Walrath's "Black Bat And Poles."
Politically explicit pieces are to the fore throughout. Aside from "Fables Of Faubus," there is "Meditations On Integration," "Free Cell Block F 'Tis Nazi USA," written in protest at the conditions in which African Americans were being held in prisons in southern states, and "Remember Rockefeller At Attica," calling out New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller's deadly suppression of the 1971 Attica prison uprising. Specifics aside, it is depressing how these tracks continue to resonate with the African American experience half a century after they were written. One day, sooner or later, such resonances will be historic rather than contemporary, but the passion and power to uplift of Mingus' music will surely live forever.
CDs 1 & 2: Charles Mingus: bass; Johnny Coles: trumpet; Eric Dolphy: alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet; Clifford Jordan: tenor saxophone; Jaki Byard: piano; Dannie Richmond: drums. CDs 3 & 4: Charles Mingus: bass; Jack Walrath: trumpet; George Adams: tenor saxophone, vocal; Don Pullen: piano; Dannie Richmond: drums.