After the emotional and economic bankruptcies of the late 1960s that nearly took him out of the picture entirely, 1972 broke well for Charles Mingus. He had re-signed with Columbia and delivered the revered Let My Children Hear Music
. (He would, a year later, be part of the great Clive Davis jazz purge of 1973 which included Keith Jarrett
, Bill Evans
, and, some argue Ornette Coleman
.) Grants and commissions were coming in and his music, in all its bold, gnarly, swooning vehemence, was being performed far and wide. His irascible, erotic, and essential autobiography, Beneath the Underdog
, had finally been published. More and more, Sue Mingus
was becoming the edifying force in his life, a beacon for his health, his creativity, his business. Most importantly, as first evidenced by Charles Mingus And Friends In Concert
(Columbia, 1972) it was all coming together for him onstage.
Even though his multiple demons (all the usual human foibles but magnified by genius) were never too far from the forefront of his garrulous self, history, while it often casts shade on even our most beloved icons, has been kind to Mingus. He's recognized in the same breath as Duke Ellington
, Charles Ives
, and Claude Debussy. Now, just in time for a loud and rowdy celebration of his 2022 centennial (April 22) and Record Store Day (April 23) another very sweet slice of history is heard gloriously on The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott's
Why it takes fifty years for music of this muscle and magnitude to be released is just one of the great eternal questions, but here it is so let's rejoice. Fully authorized by Jazz Workshop, Inc., and given the full Resonance Records grand treatment: interviews with Charles McPherson
, Eddie Gomez
, Christian McBride
; anecdotes from Mary Scott, Sue Mingus, and Fran Lebowitz, as well as archival and production liner notes. But it's the music that spins the head, spikes the pulse, and whips the carpet out from under one. It's what Mingus would want.
So it's the two nights in August at the end of a successful European run and the players are in flux but wasn't flux at the crux of Mingus' most inspired moments? Nineteen year old trumpeter Jon Faddis
was not only trying to hone his young brilliance, he was trying to do so through the Mingus maze. Little known pianist John Foster
succeeds Jaki Byard
and drummer Roy Brooks
has taken over for Mingus stalwart Dannie Richmond
, who left to soak in some short lived pop rock with Mark Almond Band. It begins as most great jazz moments do. Immediately. Ronnie Scott
intros the sextet. Mingus rumbles a happy birthday, thanks the audience for letting their claps be recorded, and it's off to the races with the unapologetic zest and swagger of "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Silk Blues," a full half hour of stunning, multi-part alchemy. Foster proves he's up to the task, keeping up with the turns and tides precipitated by alto saxophonist Charles McPherson
and his tenor counterpart, Bobby Jones
Variation upon variation. Creation on the fly. "Ysabel's Table Dance" (one of the many glories from Tijuana Moods
(RCA, 1962) knits in and out of the general creative mayhem. There's some church, some New Orleans, some breakdowns and fanfares. Faddis and Foster, with Jones on soprano sax, hold court, hand off. Mingus guides and goads. It's an unstoppable momentum that moves into a burly bass solo intro "Noddin' Ya Head Blues" a slow, low down blues that brings Foster to the vocal forefront telling his woman "I need it every morning, I need it every night" as the horns slink and slur. So expansive is the setting that Brooks gets a musical saw solo, as well he should.
Spoiler alert: From here The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott's
just gets better and better. Cascading for another riotous half hour, the recently minted Mingus twister "Mind-Readers' Convention in Milan" puts one and all to the test and just can't be described with any real justice. It needs to be heard. It needs to be experienced.
Though by its very nature any jazz moment can be considered one of kind, the barely contained madcappery that ensues in this truly one-for-the-ages performance of the seismic "Fables of Faubus" is the stuff of legend. It noodles, it sprawls, it quarrels. It reaches for the London skies and returns to the stage with ether to burn. Mingus roils as Faddis blows beyond his years, the saxophones cut and weave, Foster veers from stride to barroom to bop and Brooks drives headlong into the hijinks. In a word, remarkable. Ditto The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott's
Bobby Jones: clarinet. Roy Brooks: musical saw.