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Charles Mingus: The Great Concert of Charles Mingus

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In April of 1964 multi-instrumentalist supreme Eric Dolphy rejoined Charles Mingus for a European tour, his plan being to stay on and look for a new base of operations. Since it proved impossible for Dolphy to find supporting musicians of the caliber he had known in New York, one could argue that the recordings from this tour represent his last great legacy. You might also maintain that Mingus never rose to these kinds of heights again, either, though he certainly had many good years left ahead of him.

Over time an impressive amount of documentation of the tour has surfaced, including recordings from nine dates made in eight cities in six countries. The first of these to appear commercially is the title under consideration, which was drawn from the appearance at the Theatre des Champs-Elysee in Paris. Joining Mingus and Dolphy were Clifford Jordan on tenor, pianist Jaki Byard and drummer Dannie Richmond. The trumpeter, Johnny Coles, had collapsed on the previous evening suffering from a stomach ulcer, among other things. His absence was obviously felt by his comrades, one possible reason that the music heard here was especially amazing, even by this group’s standards.

The present release marks the first time we have heard all the music recorded that night. Because of recording problems, earlier issues of this album excluded two numbers (a rambunctious Byard solo flight and “So Long Eric”), but modern methods have salvaged these to be included in place of the “So Long” familiar from earlier issues, which was recorded the previous evening with Coles. Hearing the music as originally presented only seems to make it sound better, not least because the previously unheard “So Long” is so strong. Clifford Jordan hit his personal peak on this tour, both individually and in the various intriguing situations in which he and Dolphy counter each other. Dolphy himself gets off some brilliant and unique statements, showing that when he was inspired, his tendency to repeat certain figures didn’t detract from his effectiveness. He just found ways to make the repetition work. And of course this was one intense rhythm section. Mingus’ demonic drive and extra-sensory connection with his drummer were never more in evidence, while the unpredictable Byard was in a way perfect for this group. The fact that you never know quite what to expect just heightens the impact when he delivers, and he almost always did on this night.