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A reissue of a classic quartet recording finds Charles Mingus at his uncompromising best.
“Good evening, ladies and gentleman,” Charles Mingus gruffly but politely addresses the audience, instructing them on the conduct he expects before The Jazz Workshop band’s performance would commence. “If you must applaud, wait until the end of the set, and it won’t even matter then. The reason is that we are interrupted by your noise. In fact, don’t even take any drinks, no cash register ringing, et cetera.”Of course, there was no audience — with the notable exceptions of session supervisor and celebrated jazz writer Nat Hentoff and recording engineer Bob d’Orleans — for this extraordinary October 20, 1960 session at Tommy Nola’s Penthouse Sound Studios in New York City. The resultant 1961 Candid Records release Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus has now been remastered and reissued along with a selection of classic albums from the imprint, which closed up shop that same year but relaunched in 1980s.The conceit for the bassist-bandleader-composer was to re-create a club setting in the studio in the hopes of re-creating the magic the musicians conjured on the bandstand, hence the between-songs banter; he even had the studio lights extinguished. “I finally realized,” Mingus told Hentoff in the album’s liner notes, “that a lot of jazz records don’t make it because guys almost unconsciously change their approach in a studio from what they do every night. I finally wanted to make an album the way we are on the job.”Those sense memories wouldn’t have been difficult for Mingus and his bandmates to access, as they were just wrapping up a year-long residency at the Showplace in Greenwich Village. Mingus, who went through sidemen like a hay-fever sufferer discards tissues, had settled into a groove with this particular quartet, which featured his ever-present drummer, Dannie Richmond; explosive reed man Eric Dolphy; and gifted trumpeter Ted Curson. And, with the progressive Hentoff at the helm, Mingus was free to express himself as he wished on the political powder keg of “Original Faubus Fables.” The bitingly sardonic takedown of racist Arkansas governor Orval Faubus had been tempered by Columbia when Mingus had first recorded it as “Fables of Faubus” on the 1959 classic Mingus Ah-Um. Here, in addition to dedicating the tune to Faubus as “the first — or second, or third — all-American heel” in his intro, Mingus gleefully deems him “sick and ridiculous” in the song’s lyrics as he shouts and declaims and engages drummer Richmond in some back-and-forth badinage. Following the long Greenwich Village engagement, Dolphy and Curson had given notice they were leaving the band. The brilliant Dolphy, who died just three and half years later, mused that the recording session might have been better than what they had done in the club because the pressure was off for him and Curson. Mingus is generous in his praise for both men, appreciating Curson’s seemingly new-found ability to bend notes, while his admiration for Dolphy would be seen on later compositions such as “So Long, Eric” and seems evident in a long, squabbling instrumental exchange between the two on the track “What Love.” Hentoff refers to Mingus in the liners as “the Lee Strasberg of jazz,” and the comparison is apt, not just for his taking young artists under his wing and challenging them, but for his fanatical insistence on finding truth in every note and rejecting artifice, a kind of Method acting approach to musical improvisation. “Mingus expects his men to learn their parts through what their own feelings tell them about the music,” Hentoff writes. “Often he will give his sidemen only a scale or a row of notes against a chord and a rhythm pattern to work with. He then expects them to listen again and again to what he and Dannie Richmond work out as a base while they gradually find their own ways in the piece.” — Bob Weinberg