This previously unavailable concert recorded at Cornell University more than 40 years ago is as riveting and impressive as anything recorded since. Like the set captured at UCLA the following year, this 2-CD set represents new found recordings that Sue Mingus is making available to the public. It is, simply, a masterpiece. Co-produced by Ms. Mingus and Michael Cuscuna, the release is an important addition to the catalog of one of the most important members of the historic jazz community.
Opening with a spectacular Jaki Byard solo piano performance on "ATFW," the concert is wonderful from top to bottom. Mingus’ solo bass on "Sophisticated Lady" is equally superb, and leads into the centerpiece of the concert, the nearly 30 minute version of "Fables Of Faubus." Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet works in and around the bass and piano, Dannie Richmond’s drums, Clifford Jordan’s tenor, and Johnny Coles’ trumpet. Mingus’ recital and criticism against the then segregationist Arkansas governor is lost in the mix, but longtime fans will hear it in intention, at least. All of the players shine on this performance, particularly Cole and Jordan, and Dolphy is simply mesmerizing. The audience is appreciative throughout, realizing that they were in the presence of one of the masters. Being that master, Mingus was noted for assembling bands that were up to the task. This aggregation is certainly all of that.
There is little stage patter here, with the program edited to the music. The musical performances are, of course, stellar. "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk" is a 15-plus minute subdued piece that features Dolphy, again on bass clarinet. As relatively muted as the ensemble performance is, Dolphy seems to want to light a fire.
On the 17-minute "Take The A-Train," the fire is lit. Byard does a fine take on the Ellington intro and Mingus and Richmond set the pace with the horns taking turns and working in delightful tandem. Jordan’s solo is followed by an impressive turn from the bandleader, then the drummer, before breaking back to the ensemble.
The second disc opens with a 31 minute "Meditations." Dolphy plays flute here, Byard very stately piano, and Mingus a deep and woody meditation for a full seven minutes before the horns enter. Dolphy plays alto in tandem with Jordan’s tenor, then picks up the bass clarinet. The bass and drums remain busy while the piano sketches out complimentary chords. Byard takes it to the rhythmic edge, drops it back to a tender solo, and then the band brings the level back up, with Cole offering sharp impressive lines.
Mingus opens with a bass solo on "So Long Eric," a piece that has moments of flat out romping interspersed with more meditative sections. Mingus is a rock solid time keeper here, and Cole is particularly impressive, though all of the players make solid statements. The piece is quite impressive in the ensemble work,as well. Dolphy’s alto is superb, though the micing could have been better. Ironically, Dolphy would die in a diabetic coma a few months later.
Byard offers the opening lines of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," which leads into a wonderful Cole solo. Richmond fires everyone through their solos. Mingus seemed to enjoy interjecting the wholly unexpected into live performances. On the recording from the following year at UCLA it was "Muskrat Ramble."
The closing version of Fats Waller’s "Jitterbug Waltz" benefits from Dolphy’s spirited flute. The 10 minute piece is the most upbeat on the program and allows Dolphy the most room to stretch. Byard is likewise on fire throughout, unleashing torrents of chords. Jordan and Coles have impressive solo turns, as well.
This unearthing of the teaming of Mingus and Dolphy follows that of the Mingus octet released in 2006 -- as well as the equally historic finding of Monk and Coltrane at Carnegie Hall a couple of years ago. These are all vital recordings that almost slipped away. Thanks to Sue Mingus for bringing the recordings of her husband to light.