The reissue/compilation has always held a tenuous position in the music world. At best, it can save a work from obscurity; at worst, it can take it out of historical context and unnecessarily clutter the market with music that has been safely anthologized. A reissue of a reissue, Thrice Upon a Theme, is nonetheless a welcome addition to Charles Mingus' vast discography.
The two-disc set contains a pair of relatively obscure mid-'50s sessions that in one case predate and in the other coincide with the bassist's groundbreaking work on Atlantic Records. Disc one, originally released on the obscure Period label and later reissued on Bethlehem, finds Mingus leading a sextet through a set of reworked standards and striking originals. Mingus' maturity both as a player and composer is apparent throughout the odd session as he restlessly plucks lines or pounds out dissonant voicings on the piano behind the soloists, who alternately shine and flounder amid the intricate framework. Thad Jones' trumpet mumbles and leaps over a thorny horn accompaniment on "What Is This Thing Called Love, before making way for John LaPorta's sharp, biting alto and the airy tenor of a young Teo Macero.
"Minor Intrusions and "Thrice Upon A Theme brilliantly illustrate Mingus' prowess as a composer and foreshadow his future triumphs on albums like The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963) and Let My Children Hear Music (1971). Unfortunately, by 1954 the leader had yet to form a working unit, and while the horns hold their own, the group as a whole doesn't maintain the focus that characterized Mingus' later successes.
Disc two, a trio session from 1957 on Jubilee, finds Mingus and his musical soulmate Dannie Richmond in the company of the brilliant, underappreciated pianist Hampton Hawes. Mingus quietly plucks the melody to "Tea for Two behind Hawes, who interprets Johnny Mercer's "Laura with the wit and grace of touch of a true master, before turning it over to Mingus, whose languid lines hang in the air like wisps of smoke over Hawes' bell-like accompaniment. On "Summertime, Mingus' avant gardism is on full display. Richmond's tambourine is joined by a jarring bass ostinato before Hawes enters, playing the melody in urgent octaves. Richmond solos, followed by Mingus, whose bent notes and percussive effects are halted in mid-flight when Hawes strums the final haunting chord on the piano's strings.
CD1: What is This Thing Called Love; Minor Intrusions; Spur of the Moment; Thrice Upon a
Four Hands; Stormy Weather. CD2: Laura; Hamp's New Blues; Summertime; Dizzy Moods;
Yesterdays; Back Home Blues; I Can't Get Started.
Charles Mingus: bass, piano; Thad Jones: trumpet; John LaPorta: alto saxophone; Teo Macero:
tenor and baritone saxophone; Jackson Wiley: cello; Clem DeRosa: drums; Hampton Hawes:
piano; Dannie Richmond: drums.