CHARLES MINGUS — Jazz Portraits (aka Wonderland aka Jazz Portraits. Mingus In Wonderland) (review)

CHARLES MINGUS — Jazz Portraits (aka Wonderland aka Jazz Portraits. Mingus In Wonderland) album cover Live album · 1959 · Hard Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
js
Charles Mingus had many productive years during the first part of his career, but possibly none as productive as 1959. Three of his most acclaimed studio albums come from that year, and maybe that’s why his one live release, “Jazz Portraits“ (also known as “Mingus in Wonderland”), does not get the attention it deserves. “Portraits” may not seem as ambitious as his studio albums, its not a concept album with a unifying theme and an artsy album cover, instead, its just five guys jamming on four tunes, but what they do with those tunes makes this album one of Mingus’ best live dates ever.

“Portraits” opens with the hard bop groove of a Mingus original titled “Nostalgia in Times Square”. Tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin turns in a hot solo, as well as altoist John Handy, and Mingus closes out the solo section with a lengthy exchange between himself and the always inventive percussionist, Dannie Richmond. A cover of “I Can’t Get Started” follows, which Handy covers mostly by himself. Handy’s playing on this one is incredible as he draws on Charlie Parker and hints at the playing Eric Dolphy will soon bring to the band. Handy’s treatment of “Smoke” is sometimes lyrical and passionate, while other times he turns the tune inside out. Its a textbook example of what an inventive artist can do with a well written melody. Mingus also turns in a nice solo on this one.

Third track, “No Private Income Blues”, is a hot jam session that closes with the two saxophonists in an intense battle that merges into a double solo. Their heated exchange and outside lines mirror similar developments from Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra. The album closes with “Alice’s Wonderland”, an excellent Mingus ballad that seems to slightly mirror “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. Handy turns in another great solo, as does Mingus too. If you are used to ignoring bass solos, Mingus’ playing on here will change that. He handles the bass like its a small acoustic guitar, playing quick nimble lines with perfect intonation, no doubt Mingus was raising the bar for the bassists in jazz for good.

This album is what so much great jazz is all about, five guys standing on their own without any gimmicks, or the safety net of the studio, and showing how they can transform four tunes into streetwise tone poems. It also helps that the recording quality on “Jazz Portraits” is excellent, every instrument is very clear and well balanced. Mingus’ bass sounds like its right there in the room with you.
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