Charles Mingus was by all accounts an ornery and demanding man who frequently made life hell for those around him, including his fellow musicians. But there's no denying that he also made some of the most joyful and soulful music in jazz history. Some of the best of that music is captured in this three-disc set from Columbia/Legacy devoted to his 1959 recordings.
For all his modernism, Mingus was in many ways a traditionalist who never strayed far from the gospel and blues roots of jazz. You don't have to go past the first cut on disc one here, the classic "Better Git It in Your Soul," with its Sunday sermon shouts and hand claps, for an example of soul-jazz Mingus style. His abiding respect for his musical forefathers is evident on these discs in his tributes to Lester Young ("Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"), Jelly Roll Morton ("Jelly Roll"), Duke Ellington ("Open Letter to Duke"), and Charlie Parker ("Bird Calls" and "Gunslinging Bird"the full title of which is "If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats").
Mingus is joined on these sessions by some of his finest ensembles featuring stalwarts like Jimmy Knepper, Booker Ervin, John Handy, Roland Hanna, Horace Parlan, and the brilliant drummer Dannie Richmond. Although a stern taskmaster who asked a lot from those who shared his bandstand, Mingus always gave his sidemen plenty of room to blow, and these great musicians certainly rise to the challenge here.
The collection includes the two Columbia albums Mingus released in 1959, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty, each supplemented by non-album bonus tracks. For collectors, the real prize is the third disc, which features 38 minutes of alternate takes previously unissued and unavailable on CD.