Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy
Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy
Dolphy first played with Mingus in 1949 and again in the early 1960s. Tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan was an occasional substitute who fit in so well that Mingus expanded the group to a sextet. One of Mingus' favorite trumpet players, Johnny Coles, completed the ensemble. Cornell 1964 is not only significant in marking the debuts of some of Mingus' most important pieces, it stands on its own as one of the finest performances ever recorded by that group. The pure jubilation and palpable exultation of this performance is on display throughout the two-plus hours of music.
The joyous sense of fun that emanates throughout the concert never undermines the commitment and seriousness of the musicians. At the core of it all is Mingus, whose utter delight is displayed through his exchanges with the audience, shouting encouragement to the band, singing, hollering and voicing his unfettered pleasure with the proceedings. As with all Mingus ensembles, the sextet sounds like a much larger group. While some of this is due to the big, full tones of the musicians, it also is the result of Mingus' writing and on-the-spot direction. The various riffs and horn parts that swell under the soloists and connect one movement to another create a big band feel to each piece not only spur the soloists to heights of blazing excitement, but create a powerful continuity.
It's remarkable how contemporary this music is, more than 40 years after it was unleashed--full of passion, urgency, innovation, and uncompromising commitment. A certain stream of consciousness sensibility provides a dramatic context similar to that of a play, allowing the plot and theme to develop as the performance unfolds. The mood is set from the beginning with two solo pieces, the first of which is a Byard original called “ATFW” (as in Art Tatum & Fats Waller) that displays his trademark History of Jazz Piano technique. Mingus follows with a brilliant interpretation of Ellington's “Sophisticated Lady,” another sterling foray into the Ellingtonian legacy that was always a staple in his repertoire. Two of Charles' most famous and politically charged compositions follow: “Fables Of Faubus” and “Meditations”--originally titled “Meditation (For A Pair Of Wire Cutters)”. Each receives a half-hour treatment here, providing the concert's molten core.
The former is a bitingly sardonic indictment of the infamous segregationist governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, and provides a far greater legacy than the man's antics deserve. The performance here is a tour de force. The playful theme sets the table for a series of stunning solos containing powerful cadenzas, all within the framework of varied moods and shifting tempos, ranging from slow-drag blues to smooth easy swing to scorching up-tempo explosiveness. Byard and Mingus add to the black humor with playful quotes from a wide gamut of sources, including “Yankee Doodle,” “Porgy And Bess,” “Blues In The Night,” “Lift Every Voice And Sing” and Chopin's Funeral March. “Meditations,” a major work by any measure, is a masterpiece whose compositional mastery creates an orchestral texture with only a sextet.
Using a palette of tension, dynamics, muscularity and atmospheric evocation, “Meditations” is filled with an edgy urgency that befit its socio-political context in 1964, and is still appropriate more than 40 years later. At the other end of the spectrum is the witty take on “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” a one-day-late celebration of St. Patrick's Day, which quickly transforms the old tune into a cooking vehicle for (in Mingus' words) “Johnny O'Coles, the only Irishman in the band.” Also on the buoyant side is Mingus' only recorded version of the Fats Waller classic, “Jitterbug Waltz,” a joyous romp that showcases Dolphy's amazing flute playing. Three additional extended works comprise the remainder of the evening. They include Mingus' first sextet recording of Billy Strayhorn's “Take The 'A' Train” is a spirited treatment filled with sparkling solos that make the concert audience sound like a packed house at the Five Spot on a Saturday night. Mingus' breathtakingly beautiful opus, “Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk,” another Mingus piece destined to become a classic, receives its concert debut here.
Finally, “So Long Eric,” an exuberant blues that was meant to say goodbye to Dolphy, who would be leaving the band after the following European tour. The piece was to become a much more poignant farewell as this great artist passed away only three months later at the age of 36. Although this ensemble is represented on other recordings, both legitimate and bootleg--despite its relatively short existence--Cornell 1964 captures it at its zenith. It is one of many concert recordings preserved by Mingus wife, Sue Graham Mingus that continue to enrich the singular giant's immortal legacy. One can only hope that it is the beginning of many more to come. Read more on Last.fm.
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