Mingus – The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott’s
(Resonance. 3-LP or 3-CD set (*). Review by Dan Bergsagel)
In August 1972, the Charles Mingus Sextet had a two-week residency at Ronnie Scott’s. Now, almost 50 years after the residency and 100 years after Mingus was born, Resonance Records are releasing The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott’s – uncovered and remastered tapes.
These are not any old tapes scraped off the bottom of the archival barrel – these are high-quality live sets put down in a mobile recording truck on an eight-track with the intention of being released at the time.
The original planned release of the album never happened – Columbia Records dropped Mingus (and nearly everyone else jazzy) in 1973 and the tapes have languished in a box ever since. But with the help of Sue Mingus and the Jazz Workshop, this three-LP (or three-CD) release, with a bulging 44-page booklet – including an overview from Mingus biographer Brian Priestley, and interviews and recollections from the likes of Fran Lebowitz, Charles McPherson and Christian McBride – does a fantastic job of filling in some of the blanks of the Mingus story.
1972 was in the early years of Mingus’ return to playing after a musical hiatus in the second half of the ’60s, and a lot was going on. This release has a very different feel, line-up and set-list to the Charles Mingus and Friends in Concert recordings from February 1972 at Lincoln Center in NYC, and captures a fleeting snapshot of his touring European quintets and sextets as opposed to his US-based big band behemoths.
The Lost Album features a rare constellation of Mingus musicians both familiar and new playing a rare mix of familiar ’50s classics, developments of mid-’60s introspective piano pieces, and fresh in-progress compositions being workshopped live. Together, across these different pieces interspersed with short musical interludes and snippets of conversation, we are presented with a rich brew of his compositional strength and bandleading spontaneity.
Orange was the Color of Her Dress, then Silk Blue might be familiar from the 1963 brief solo version on Mingus Plays Piano, although familiar may be the wrong word. It might be more familiar from the 1964 solo trumpet-led Cornell recording, but this also brings a pensive, melancholy air underpinned by a dominant bass. The Lost Album version feels much more a work-in-progress for the 1975 Changes Two version, more willing to wind up frantically or dramatically let loose the ponderous tempo, and really emphasizing the horn triumphalism of the chordal resolution at the end of the refrain.
It is both a slow, grandiose greeting to the set that introduces the sextet with ample space between musical movements, and a hint at the potentially crazed energy that together they can muster, from horn freewheeling to weary Bernard Herrmann-esque saxophone glissando.
In this 30-minute epic, mixed with the trademark Mingus organised chaos, are a series of more personal conversations – Mingus with tenor, Mingus with alto, Mingus with trumpet, and Mingus with piano. But as the conversation slips between different phases and moods, it is Roy Brooks who flags the changes on drums: urgent, swinging, marching, scattered.
The intensity of Orange was… is lightened throughout the set, with a Noddin’ Ya Head Blues opening with a long solo bass exploration, before launching into a slow blues and an awkwardly dated lyric vocal chorus from John Russell Foster, and a delightfully dated Louis Armstrong homage in Pops. On Pops the group almost sound like an entirely different band – nimble and pliable clarinet from tenor man Bobby Jones, and a clean upright trumpet style.
Hearing the early development of Jon Faddis on trumpet on The Lost Album is for me one of the choice discoveries. The sextet gel together well, coming at the tail end of a European tour and the last days of their two-week residency at Ronnie Scott’s. But Faddis is only 19 years old (or 11, as Mingus quips) and is a hero throughout.
His storming solo on an unnervingly fast and particularly chaotic Fables of Faubus is flexible, varied, wildly high. Fables… brings the best out of each musician as well as the arrangement they play through, hung on the architecture of one of Mingus’ most compelling compositions. Mind-readers’ Convention in Milano is another master class in bringing the group together in lockstep, allowing melodies to collide, overwhelming serpentine lines crashing through speeds and each other, the staggered lines locking together to become more than the sum of their parts. The Man who Never Sleeps leads with a piercing, searching Faddis line, before slipping into a cool swing, and sombre Charles McPherson alto saxophone solo. It is a clean finish to the set (not without a virtuosically long drum solo and a release of some of the tension built in the early parts).
Mingus closes the set with the slightly unusual phrasing “Thank you for coming here to get your claps on record”, which sounds even more unusual considering that record was unexpectedly buried for a half-century. But as well as their applause, the crowd have helped shape the arc and energy of The Lost Album, two and a half hours of high fidelity new perspectives on Mingus developments; transitional fossils that help us understand his work before and after better than we did before.
Jon Faddis – trumpet
Charles McPherson – alto saxophone
Bobby Jones – tenor saxophone and clarinet
John Russell Foster – piano, vocals
Charles Mingus – bass
Roy Brooks – drums, musical saw.
2 Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress , Then Silk Blue
3 Noddin’ Ya Head Blues
1 Mindreaders’ Convention in Milano (aka Number 29)
2 Koko (Theme)
1 Fables of Faubus
2 Pops (aka When The Saints Go Marchin’ In)
3 The Man Who Never Sleeps
4 Air Mail Special
(*) The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott’s is available as a three-LP Record Store Day offering on April 23. The Resonance Records album will be issued as a three-CD set and digital download on April 29.
Categories: Album review