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Mingus 1964 concert to bow on disc
NEW YORK (Billboard) - Look for Charles Mingus, fronting a dazzling sextet, to climb the traditional-jazz chart this summer.
The legendary bassist isn't, of course, leading his group on a landmark tour as he did 43 years ago; Mingus, who would have been 85 this year, died in 1979. In fact, none of the members of the ensemble heard on "Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964" -- set for release July 17 on Blue Note Records -- are still alive.
But this double disc, drawn from previously unreleased tapes, is likely to be the most talked-about jazz album of the year. It adds important detail to a key chapter in one of jazz's most celebrated careers.
Spring 1964 was a championship season for Mingus, who performed a famous concert April 4 at New York's Town Hall before a memorable tour of Europe and one monumental concert at the Monterey Jazz Festival in California. This sextet was perhaps the most acclaimed Mingus ensemble of all, featuring reedman Eric Dolphy, pianist Jaki Byard, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, trumpeter Johnny Coles and drummer Dannie Richmond.
A JOYFUL SOUND
The tapes are as exhilarating as they are important. "The main thing here is that Charles Mingus -- a man whose emotional unpredictability rivaled his genius -- is caught in a state of shameless joy," Gary Giddins writes in the album's liner notes. "Here is the sound of Mingus pleased with himself, his band and his music. Here is the sound of Mingus elated."
When Sue Mingus, Charles' widow, brought these tapes to Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall, it must have been cause for elation among label staffers too. These are not alternate takes, they're choice moments. Perhaps that fact is better appreciated at Blue Note than at any other label, given its stunning success in 2005 with "Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane, 1957 Concert," which was drawn from the archives at the Library of Congress after a chance discovery.
"We have a new sort of animal with posthumous 'new' CDs," said Blue Note product manager Perry Greenfield, who also worked on the Monk/Coltrane CD. "The buzz will be largely led by press, which, for Monk, was overwhelming. And on this one, we have all sorts of promotional avenues to pursue: Sue Mingus is a marketing genius, and she keeps his legacy in constant forward motion."
On the Cornell discs, Mingus' sextet makes music that is stylistically diverse (from Byard's stride-piano forays to Jordan's avant-leaning wails) and politically charged (an extended version of "Fables of Faubus" contains not just anti-segregation lyrics but flecks of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and Chopin's funeral march).
Under Sue Mingus' stewardship, three posthumous ensembles operate in Mingus' name, playing weekly at New York's Iridium club and regularly at festivals here and abroad: the Mingus Dynasty, replicating the sextet format favored by the bassist, and two larger groups, the Mingus Big Band and the more classically oriented Mingus Orchestra.
For what would have been Mingus' 85th year, a banner series of events has unfolded: the mounting of the bassist's two-hour masterwork, "Epitaph," as conducted by Gunther Schuller at New York's Lincoln Center and Los Angeles' Disney Hall, among other venues; the cataloging and microfilming of Mingus' complete works through the New York Public Library; publication of the 500-page "Epitaph" score (now computerized); and initiation of the "Simply Mingus" program, which makes his scores and materials available to libraries and schools.
In September, the next set of the popular new "Jazz Icons" DVD series will issue material drawn from performances in Belgium, Norway and Sweden, originally recorded for European TV roughly a month after the Cornell concert. Excerpts of these can be found on the YouTube Web site -- which, Greenfield noted, extends Mingus' reach beyond the traditional jazz audience.
"I used to try to do it all myself," said Sue Mingus, who, in the past, often chased down unauthorized video and recordings. Her Revenge Records, launched in 2001, copied bootleg discs, undersold the pirate labels and paid royalties to sidemen. "But I've stopped fighting, and now I just want to get it out there the best way I can. We'll see what the future holds." She added that there are plenty of great tapes from the '60s and '70s waiting in the wings.
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