Charles Mingus - Live At UCLA 1965

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EmArcy 984275-9 (2 CDs)    ***
Mingus (b, p, narr), Hobart Dotson, Jimmy Owens, Lonnie Hillyer (t), Julius Watkins (Fr hn), Howard Johnson (tu), Charles McPherson (as) and Dannie Richmond (d). Rec. 25 Sep 1965

Charles Mingus -  Live At UCLA 1965
In Paris – The Complete America Session

EmArcy 984295-8 (2 CDs)    **
Mingus (b), Eddie Preston (t), Charles McPherson (as), Bobby Jones (ts), Byard (p) and Richmond (d). Rec. 31 Oct 1970

Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus
Impulse/Classics 060251703693    ***
Mingus (b, narr) with groups incl. Richard Williams, Preston (t), Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman (tb), Charlie Mariano, Eric Dolphy (as), Booker Ervin (ts), Jerome Richardson (bs), Byard (p), Richmond, Walter Perkins (d) and Bob Hammer (arr). Rec. 20 Jan and 20 Sep 1963

The star-rating system never gave me as much trouble as now. These new reissues are very different from each other, but all have value for me. None of them made it to the list of 10 adjoining this month’s Mingus feature, though two out of three might have been candidates. An added problem is that they traverse the most difficult period of his career, with the UCLA album (originally on Mingus’ own label) his last documentation for five years, apart from incomplete performances in the documentary movie of his 1966 eviction.

The 1965 octet of unusual instrumentation was a working group, although the pianoless quartet with McPherson and Hillyer at its core performs alone on the so-called ‘Ode To Bird And Dizzy’ and one other – but only because Mingus dismisses the brass-section for alleged incompetence. They show their strength, however, on two impressive pieces re-done for big-band in 1971 and on a couple of things not otherwise recorded, including the ‘Body And Soul’-based ‘Arts Of Tatum And Freddie Webster’. Also unique is Mingus’ recitation of a poem about the political “cleansing” preceding the Holocaust, called ‘Don’t Let It Happen Here’ – with nearly half the U.S. prison population being black, you could say it already has.

The 1963 Impulse has a counterpart to that piece in ‘Freedom’, first attempted at the ill-fated Town Hall concert. Otherwise, the album revisited items recorded for other labels in 1957-59, some with their titles changed for copyright reasons. Apart from ‘Hora Decubitus’ being ‘E’s Flat Ah’s Flat Too’, identifications are in Nat Hentoff’s notes while the chief soloist is Ervin, with Dolphy only heard once. The fact that Bob Hammer wrote some fairly conventional arrangements isn’t totally counteracted by Mingus, but I like the swing-style ending of ‘Better Get Hit’ (guess what that’s based on). Remastering appears identical to the 1995 CD.

Having seen the 1970 group at Ronnie’s, I can confirm that the medicated Mingus was functioning at half-strength. While some of this sounds better than what I heard, a lack of the famed telepathy between him and Richmond (who left immediately after) undermines the good points. There are messy remakes of three older tunes plus a slow blues inspired by Parker, an unexpected and tedious standard, and an incomplete new original called ‘Love Is A Dangerous Necessity’. Specialists will welcome a second CD of out-takes and studio chatter, but the basic session is hardly comparable to classic Mingus.

Brian Priestley

This review is taken from Jazzwise Issue Number 108 - to read the full feature subscribe here and receive a free CD.