Charles Mingus was not only a bass virtuoso, but probably the greatest bass playing leader the world has ever known. Although strongly influenced by Duke Ellington in his early years, he was a true pioneer in jazz, and by the mid-fifties was at the avant-garde of the jazz world where he was soon playing alongside Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Duke Ellington himself. By 1964, when this live album was recorded, Mingus was at his most creative and prolific, releasing over 30 albums over the course of the decade. Soon after the release of his sprawling masterpiece, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, called "one of the greatest achievements in orchestration by any composer in jazz history", Mingus put together one of his most influential ensembles, a sextet featuring Johnny Coles, Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, Jaki Byard and Danny Richmond and undertook an extensive European tour.
Mingus fans will rejoice at this crisp-sounding live date of Mingus's sextet from 1964. This was an era of great creative bursts from the burly bassist and composer--he'd released the incendiary Black Saint and the Sinner Lady just the year before--as well as one of great sadness. Saxophonist Eric Dolphy, who plays flute and alto here, died suddenly, not long after this recording was made. The sextet plays it tight when they need to and loose when they want to. Few artists, aside from Sun Ra at his straightest, so fully explored the tension between Duke Ellington-derived ensemble playing and free improv. The forty-minute-plus take of "Fables of Faubus" is stellar, and rivals any other recorded version. And the version of "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress" borders on the sublime. Note: Portions of this concert have been issued before, but the entire show's included on this double-disc set, and the sound's better here as well. --Mike McGonigal