This review is written using the original 3 LP set in a huge foldout gate sleeve cover. If you had to pick the number one top recorded jazz performance known to mankind, you would have a hard time finding one that topped “The Great Concert of Charles Mingus”, a live set that was recorded in Paris in 1964, but not released until the early 70s. It doesn’t hurt that two of the greatest performers of all-time, Mingus and Eric Dolphy, have possibly the best performances of their careers on here, but also the brilliant supporting cast of Jaki Byard, Dannie Richmond and Clifford Jordan are likewise inspired for possible career topping performances as well. Johnny Coles was supposed to be on trumpet, but sickness knocked him off of every performance except the very first cut. This opening cut, by the way, is mis-labeled as “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, when it actually is “So Long Eric”, a better choice for an opening tune anyway.
The concert opens with a nice bluesy groove for the first couple solos, but when Dolphy steps up for his solo, all hell breaks loose and things continue to unravel from there in a rainbow kalediscope of colliding musical ideas. Remaining tracks like “Parkeriana” , “Meditations on Integration” and “Fables of Faubus” feature bizarre complex arrangements that show that both Mingus and Dolphy were very capable modern concert hall composers. When the band is cut loose from the arrangements, they burn with an unprecedented intensity. So much of the music on here pre-dates what is happening in jazz in the early 21st century, such as tonality blended with atonality and compositional structure blended with free blowing. Add to that, something unique to this session, intellectualism blended with emotional fire.
Eric Dolphy is often incorrectly grouped with early 60s “free” players such as Albert Alyer and Archie Shepp. While Dolphy did play free jazz on occasion, and was quite adept at it, this recording is a good example of how Dolphy’s true calling was working with melody and chord changes. Eric’s attempts to take these things to extremes made him more an extension of the Charlie Parker school of music, which is reflected in the mash-up of Parker melodies presented during “Parkeriana”.
If there is one problem with this recording, it would be in Jaki Byard’s volume level, he just sounds a little distant compared to the others, which is a shame because he is a brilliant and under-rated pianist. Byard never really got with the modern minimal sound of Bud Powell and Monk, instead he played more in the old school huge stride based sound of Earl Hines and Art Tatum, which Byard would modernize with atonal clusters of notes and noisy clatter which blended great with the Mingus-Dolphy approach. There is always a lot of mischievous humor to what Jaki serves up as well.
If you ever wonder why jazz fans make a big deal out of Charles Mingus, this record should help you understand why