Album reviews

Charles Mingus – ‘Live at Carnegie Hall Deluxe Edition’

Charles Mingus – Live at Carnegie Hall Deluxe Edition

(Rhino. Two CDs or 3 LPs. Album review by John Bungey)

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You may well know the single album that emerged from Mingus’s show at Carnegie Hall in January 1974. The old LP featured rumbustious versions of Ellington’s C Jam Blues and Perdido that lasted a side each. Guest Mingus alumni – Charles MacPherson, John Handy and Roland Kirk – indulge in a “battle of the saxes” pushing each other farther into the outer reaches over Mingus’s walking (sprinting?) bass.

It’s hairy stuff but for anyone who values Mingus as a composer not exactly essential – more ho-hum than Ah Um. This two-CD/three-LP re-release completely recasts the concert by including the 72 minutes of Mingus Workshop music that preceded the all-star jam. And in many ways it’s much more gripping. This is vintage late-era Mingus – music that’s by turns joyous, ecstatic, furious, and just occasionally tender, as the quintet ricochets between gospel, blues and free jazz. It’s also very well recorded.

Playing the hallowed home of Manhattan high culture, must have pleased Mingus – a small acknowledgement of jazz as African-America’s classical music. This rerelease 47 years later coincides with Black Music Month in the States.

The Mingus quintet of January 1974 featured Jon Faddis on trumpet, Hamiet Bluiett on baritone, George Adams on tenor alongside  long-serving drummer Dannie Richmond and pianist Don Pullen. (It’s the only release with Bluiett, co-founder of the World Saxophone Quartet.) The unheard material consists of Mingus staples that he long tinkered with: Peggy’s Blue Skylight, Celia, Fables of Faubus and Big Alice. Nothing is brief: Fables spans to 20 minutes; Celia is 23 minutes. This was a band that let it all hang out.

Mingus’s groups sometimes infamously misfired live – he’d tell the band to shut up and start again; he would harangue either audience or musicians. (I’ve always liked the possibly true story that his onstage destruction of an $800 double bass — witnessed by the R’n’B group the Animals — inspired the rock craze for trashing guitars.) There were sidemen too in the Seventies that Mingus felt ambivalent about.

However, at Carnegie this line-up swiftly achieves lift-off.  As Mingus’s relentless bass provides the motor Faddis’s trumpet keens above the pirouetting saxophones. Pullen’s percussive piano moves from the blues or soul grooves to keyboard-spanning improvisation. Richmond is equally compelling syncopating bebop or shaping the freer flights. Like the best Mingus groups, the music emerges as a chattering band of voices, sometimes rough-edged and querulous, but with a unity of purpose when it comes to sudden shifts in tempo or tone.  

1974 witnessed all sorts of experiments in cosmically bound jazz-rock fusion. But in some ways Mingus’s bustling juggernaut of sound has stood the test of time as well as any of that year’s astral adventures. Certainly if such a line-up  existed today, I wouldn’t want to be in the band trying to follow them on stage.

Release date for Charles Mingus – Live at Carnegie Hall Deluxe Edition is 11 June 2021

LINK: Charles Mingus at Rhino

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