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Charles Mingus: The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott's


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Charles Mingus: The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott's
Charles Mingus was larger than life as a composer, performer and bandleader. A writer of frequently difficult music, Mingus was demanding of himself and his musicians, yet he never wanted his works to sound overly polished. These recordings made over two consecutive nights at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London in 1971 were recorded to be released on Columbia Records. Unfortunately, the gross incompetence of the label's president, Clive Davis, who dropped the entire jazz roster in 1973, except for Miles Davis, caused this music to remain hidden from the general public for over a half-century.

Mingus had been battling depression over the few years prior to the London visit, while he was also working with a relatively new band. Longtime pianist Jaki Byard and drummer Dannie Richmond had departed, though veteran alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, who had first recorded with the bassist in 1960 and pretty much took over alto in his band following the untimely death in 1964 of Eric Dolphy, is a major force throughout these dates. The teenage trumpeter Jon Faddis is the wild card, as he is technically impressive and full of energy, though he is still learning the ropes compared with the more established players. Bobby Jones, heard on tenor saxophone and clarinet, was just beginning a several year stint with Mingus, after leaving Woody Herman. Drummer Roy Brooks, a veteran of Horace Silver's band, is a capable anchor and adds musical saw for a twist. Pianist John Foster more than meets the demands of Mingus' music and also has some of the humor in his playing, a trademark of his predecessor, Jaki Byard.

Mingus did not let time constraints restrict him when recording live, though in the LP era, 30-plus minute sides weren't practical due to the technical limitations of the format and that meant spreading an extended performance over two sides. Since some of the music was challenging, Mingus re-recorded a few sections to be spliced into the album while at the club with an audience. Since he didn't live to make the edits himself, the producers chose to make them to honor his wishes. For those who might complain about the edits being made, one has to remember that some of the songs were extremely long, the band did not have unlimited time on stage to play multiple versions of the same piece, and the musicians might have also been too tired by the end of the set to play them once more. Most listeners won't be able to tell exactly where the splices have been made.

The music is a mix of old and new works, starting with a brilliant rendition of the leader's "Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Silk Blues." The complex rhythmic background for the soloists is part of the fabric of this gem, with McPherson's passionate alto saxophone and Faddis' surprising, spacious trumpet solo being highlights. "Fables Of Faubus" had long been an audience favorite since Mingus introduced this mocking portrait of the racist governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus. McPherson had played this staple with Mingus many times over the preceding decade and takes charge in his solo, while Faddis's screams of protest and taunting of the song's subject are fueled by Foster's eclectic piano and Mingus' ominous bass. Foster's gruff vocal pays tribute to Louis Armstrong in "Pops," which is intertwined with the gospel favorite "When The Saints Go Marching In." Mingus had great respect for the jazz giants who preceded him and makes the merging of traditional jazz with bop and swing seem effortless. Jones' inspired clarinet shows that he could have easily played in Armstrong's All-Stars. Brooks' rousing drum solo brings the song to a feverish pitch before the ensemble wraps it for the enthusiastic audience response.

Mingus sets the tone for "Noddin' Ya Head Blues" with his bluesy introduction, buoyed by Foster's engaging vocal, McPherson's conversational boppish alto and Faddis' sizzling trumpet. "Mind-Reader's Convention in Milano (AKA Number 29)" was a relatively new work that demanded a lot of the musicians, with its tricky rhythms and dissonant lines, but the finished project suggests that it is an undiscovered gem in Mingus' voluminous output that needs further exploration. "The Man Who Never Sleeps" had been introduced by Mingus the previous year and the band devours the piece whole, featuring some of their most adventurous playing at Ronnie Scott's. With Jones still on clarinet, the sextet launches into a breakneck rendition of Lionel Hampton's "Ko-Ko." While the 1971 Charles Mingus Sextet doesn't quite achieve the heights of the better known 1964 band that toured Europe, the release of these historic performances are a welcome addition to Charles Mingus' discography.

Resonance Records did an outstanding job at bringing out the audio of these half-century old tapes, while the label has earned a reputation for its attention to detail in making packages of historic music such as these performances. Included are many vintage photos, a detailed interview conducted by veteran jazz journalist Brian Priestly during one of the nights at Ronnie Scott's with Mingus and Charles McPherson, plus recent conversations McPherson, bassists Eddie Gomez and Christian McBride, Charles McPherson and writer Fran Liebowitz.

Track Listing

CD 1
Introduction: Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Silk Blues; Noddin’ Ya Head Blues.
CD 2
Mind-Readers’ Convention In Milano (aka Number 29); Ko Ko (Theme).
CD 3
Fables of Faubus; Pops (aka When the Saints Go Marching In); The Man Who Never Sleeps; Air Mail Special.


Charles Mingus: bass, acoustic; Charles McPherson: saxophone, alto; Bobby Jones: saxophone, tenor; Jon Faddis: trumpet; John Foster: piano; Roy Brooks: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Bobby Jones: clarinet. Roy Brooks: musical saw.

Album information

Title: The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott's | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Resonance Records

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