CHARLES MINGUS — The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (review)

CHARLES MINGUS — The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady album cover Album · 1963 · Progressive Big Band Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Sean Trane
If you must own only one Mingus album, BS&TLS is the one. Clearly Mingus had never reached such a level (especially over a full album’s length), and rarely will he ever after that, despite some mega-ambitious projects like Let The Children Hear Music or his career-crowning achievement Epitaph. Oddly enough, Mingus achieved ths monster without having his usual suspects, except for drummer Richmond, but it’s probably this change of background that pushed Mingus to the extreme. To this writer, it is little wonder this album had to appear on the Impulse! Catalogue and that only that label could’ve given him the push he needed, despite (or in spite) of the Thiele/Van Gelder link. Indeed, names like Mariano, Byard, Berliner bring the back-up to a whole different level of ballgame (didn’t say better), which in turned changed the ballpark; no disrespect for the usual Mingus boys, quite on the contrary.

Written as whole piece, this multi-movement suite 37-mins composition is one of the rare example of jazz composition that I’d qualify as an epic, in the progressive sense of the term, with plenty of time and key changes, loads of dramatics, theme reprises and everything else a real music lover could ever wish for. All of these ingredients bring many goose-bumps, spine-chills and jaw-drops, as it all unravels before you still nowadays… But just imagine the shock of those jazz mainstream listeners, expecting another Ah Um, or something like the first Miles Quintet. Indeed, this shock was probably as big as it would be for the astounding A Love Supreme, but also later with Bitches Brew…. The evil or traitor’s trilogy for 40’s & 50’s jazz-purists cause, if you want. Many hard boppers thought that go innovative, you had to approach the speed of sound, but both Trane and Mingus showed that you can be resolutely mid-paced (and even slow-paced) to be groundbreaking and that is pure songwriting Mingus genius at work here, because the overall soundscapes are still quite a bit more melodic and catchy (almost mainstream-y) than most of the hard bop stuff produced before and since.

The Black Saint’s world ranges from Satie or Rachmaninov sketches (piano opening the Group Dancer movement) to relatively dark and moody moods (almost dangerous, the brass near-chaotic mayhem early in Mode D), sprinkles of flamenco (glimpse of Ysabel’s Table Dance, I guess ;o)) brooding bowed contrabass, wailing spell-binding semi-gypsy-jazz horns, but that never-ending riff being the cornstarch of the recipe. All of these ingredients flow and merge effortlessly as one whole insoluble body, sometimes getting close to Screaming Jay Hawkins’ musical madness.

The Impulse! remaster doesn’t have any bonus tracks and to be honest, not only does it not need any, but I doubt that you could find much to actually match that Sinning Lady, if only maybe a version of Meditation. Sooooooo, if you must own only one Mingus album, BS&TLS is the one.

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