Monday, September 26, 2022

Mingus in Amsterdam

Charles Mingus/Eric Dolphy Sextet, Complete Live in Amsterdam. 2 CDs. Jazz Collectors. 2022.

ATFW You (Jaki Byard) : Parkeriana : So Long Eric : Orange Was the Color Of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk : Sophisticated Lady (Duke Ellington) : Meditations on Integration : Fables of Faubus

Charles Mingus, bass; Johnny Coles, trumpet; Eric Dolphy, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Clifford Jordan, tenor saxophone; Jaki Byard, piano; Dannie Richmond, drums. Recorded April 10, 1964, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Holland. Total time: 2:01:59.

All compositions by Charles Mingus except as noted.

I long had a standard choice for a musical time machine (with a train ticket): 1928 or so, so that I could hear Louis Armstrong in Chicago or Duke Ellington in New York. At some point I added 1964 (with plane fare), to hear the Charles Mingus Sextet somewhere in Europe.

This two-disc set holds the first recorded performance from the group’s ill-fated 1964 European tour.¹ And one point to get out of the way: this group was never known as the Charles Mingus/Eric Dolphy Sextet. It was the Charles Mingus Sextet, as programs from the tour (April 10–28) attest. But Dolphy’s name sells records too.

This sextet is for many listeners the best group Mingus ever led, with Coles’s understated trumpet, Jordan’s tough tenor; Dolphy’s explosive work on three instruments; Byard’s chameleonic mastery of piano styles; and the always inspiring and challenging Mingus/Richmond partnership. These discs follow the order of the group’s performance in two hour-long sets. It seems that the idea was to establish a claim to musical tradition upfront — Byard’s Art Tatumisms and Fats Wallerisms, Mingus’s solo on an Ellington tune — before moving in new directions.

Three highlights:

“Parkeriana,” which borrows Dizzy Gillespie’s tune “Ow” (which itself borrows “I Got Rhythm” chord changes) as a foundation upon which to collage tunes by or associated with Charlie Parker. When Dolphy solos on “Rhythm” changes (sans piano, bass, and drums) as Coles and Jordan play “A Night in Tunisia,” I imagine what it might have been like to stand on 52nd Street as music poured from the doorways of different clubs.

“Meditations on Integration,” with Dolphy’s bass clarinet suggesting (to my ears, anyway) police dogs and sirens, Jordan’s tenor at the top of its register, and Byard and Mingus in an elegiac duet.

“Fables of Faubus,” with Coles’s strongest statement, sometimes against bass alone, sometimes against the full band; Byard interpolating “Lift Every Voice and Sing”; Jordan honking and wailing and trading fours with Richmond; Mingus playing “When Johnny Comes Home Again” and other bits of Americana; and Dolphy shifting to a minor mode.

The one weakness of this recording: the sound on the first disc. Coles’s solo on “So Long Eric” is barely audible over the other horns, and the contrapuntal lines of “Parkeriana” are sometimes lost. The microphones and levels must have been adjusted for the second set.

The CD has already disappeared from Amazon. (Supply-chain trouble? A licensing dispute?) The music on these discs also appears in Charles Mingus: The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964–65 (Mosaic, 2012), now out of print.

Related reading
All OCA Mingus posts (Pinboard)

¹ Why ill-fated? A week after this concert, Coles collapsed on stage, was treated for an ulcer, and left the tour. Dolphy, who stayed on in Europe, fell into a diabetic coma and died in Berlin on June 29, 1964. He was just thirty-six.

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