Charles Mingus:

The Jazz Workshop Concerts, 1964-65 (Mosaic, http://www.mosaicrecords.com)

By Martin Kasdan Jr.

Thanks to the hardworking folks at the well-respected Mosaic reissue label, I finally have a listenable copy of the Charles Mingus concert from the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival. I bought the 2-LP set, and bought a Japanese import CD early in the digital era, and the sound quality on both ranged from mediocre to wretched. I am pleased that the engineers have been able to clean up the sound, and present the 25-minute Duke Ellington medley, the 15-minute swirling "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk," and the 25:41 take of "Meditations on Integration" without the interruptions of the 2-LP set, nor the squall of the earlier CD. And this is just one disc of the seven in this LP-size box of mostly previously-unreleased-on-CD material, including a great deal of music not previously available at all. During the period covered here, the Mingus ensembles ranged from the May 13, 1965 Minneapolis recording of "My Favorite Quintet" (with pianist Jaki Byard, Dannie Richmond, trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer and saxophonist Charles McPherson) to the piano-less octet performing a short but powerful set at the 1965 Monterey festival. There is an unexpected surprise at the end of this set, as the band marches offstage (per the liner notes, by noted author Brian Priestley) performing "When the Saints Go Marching In," sounding like a brass band from the New Orleans streets.

The earliest two concerts are from April of 1964, with a sextet featuring Eric Dolphy. The first, from New York's Town Hall (partially previously released), opens with Byard's romping tribute to Art Tatum and Fats Waller, "A.T.F.W.," and closes with a ferocious "Fables of Faubus" an hour and a half later. Throughout the other concerts, one can hear Mingus not only exhorting his musicians, but sometimes even calling for specific soloists. Some of the compositions appear on several concerts, such as the leader's farewell to Dolphy, "So Long Eric." However, between the changing personnel and the always-challenging leader, these "duplications" are anything but redundant, and engage the listener in a powerful musical experience. Separate from the rarity of some of the concerts themselves, there are some rarely recorded compositions played here, including political statements such as "They Trespass the Land of the Sacred Sioux" and "Don't Let It Happen Here," during which Mingus intones the lines attributed to Martin Niemöller, beginning with "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist." The large booklet includes numerous photos, the essay by Priestley, and additional comments by Sue Mingus, who has devoted much of her life to preserving and presenting the music of her late husband. For anyone interested in Mingus, and who perhaps already has some of the seminal recordings, this is a great addition to the canon.