Charles Mingus – Presents Charles Mingus
(Pure Pleasure/Candid CJS 9005. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)
“Thank you again for not applauding. You dig it?” So speaks Charles Mingus on this album, recorded in November 1960 at Tommy Nola’s Penthouse Studios in New York. Mingus’s introductory announcement — “In fact don’t even take any drinks, or no cash register ringing, etc.” — is a particularly weird piece of theatre, since this isn’t a live recording and there was no audience present, let alone one which was drinking or operating cash registers. Apparently the maestro wanted to conjure a mood. Hence the feigned announcements, and turning down the lights in the studio. More specifically, Mingus wanted to pretend he’d created a live recording of the material he’d been playing so energetically with this quartet (Eric Dolphy reeds, Ted Curson trumpet, Dannie Richmond drums) in a series of memorable gigs at the Showplace club in recent weeks (“We don’t applaud here at the Showplace,” continues Mingus’s fantasia).
Live or not, this is classic Mingus and a milestone in his catalogue. It was originally released in 1961 on Nat Hentoff’s Candid Label and is now back in print in an audiophile vinyl version from Pure Pleasure, who have had the benefit of working from the original master tapes provided by Alan Bates at Candid. It’s a sonically superb reissue, 180gram vinyl in a flat edge pressing, and topnotch in every respect. Even the cover art is pin sharp, which is hardly ever the case with an album of this vintage.
Mingus’s fake patter is soon over, swallowed by the magnificent music here. When he’s introducing the band he mentions Ted Curson’s contribution on trumpet almost as an afterthought. But Curson is in many ways the hero of this set. His bluesy, soulful statements are certainly the lynchpin of Folk Forms No. 1, although Eric Dolphy’s alto is soon weaving wild weeds around the trumpeter’s solid structures, like vegetation gone out of control among the wreckage of a post-apocalypse metropolis. Curson and Dolphy battle it out right until the last note, and there is an exhausted sigh at the very end, which I suspect comes from Mingus, contemplating what he has wrought here.
Original Faubus Fables is a variant on Fables of Faubus which first appeared on Mingus’s 1959 album Mingus Ah Um. The song chronicles the misadventures of Arkansas governor and all-round bozo Orval E. Faubus, who unleashed troops to stop nine black children entering a white high school. Aptly for a political piece, it has a Weill and Brecht feel which comes through most clearly on this version (coincidentally, Dolphy would record an album of Weill tunes with John Lewis in 1965). Eric Dolphy closely shadows Mingus’s vocals and then falls into step with Curson’s punchy, measured lead. Then Dolphy takes centre stage with a spook-show solo. The two men make for a fascinating pair, giving Mingus a startlingly rich sound from such a small unit. Richmond’s staccato, military drumming is also outstanding.
Ted Curson’s lonely, exploratory trumpet on What Love is initially accompanied by chugging reeds from Dolphy, and then Curson suddenly begins to swing. Not to be outgunned, Dolphy plays choppy bass clarinet which develops into a solo with a distinctly otherworldly Sun Ra feel. Dannie Richmond evokes a backdrop of shimmering cymbals and there is raunchy, punchy bass from Mingus. Towards the end Curson and Mingus spar like boxers. Curson’s horn often suggests a bugle and indeed, on All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother he emits despairing bugle calls as if summoning reinforcements to Custer’s Last Stand.
This is an outstanding release from Pure Pleasure, a British label which has been issuing audiophile vinyl albums for 12 years now. Like the German firm Speakers Corner, they press their LPs at the legendary Pallas plant in Diepholz in Lower Saxony, and Pure Pleasure maintain a similarly dazzling high audio standard. They have a strong jazz catalogue including many other Candid titles, mastered, like this one, from the original tapes. It will indeed be a pure pleasure to explore their list further.