Friday, June 11, 2010

Charles Mingus In Europe 1964

Charles Mingus (bass)
The European Tour 1964
Eric Dolphy (sax)
Johnny Coles (trumpet)
Clifford Jordan (sax)
Jaki Byard (piano)
Dannie Richmond (drums)

For most jazz heads, 1964 is probably the most well documented period of the legendary bass player. He was just reaching the peak out his powers. Always challenging and demanding more from his fellow musicians, Mingus was beloved and revered.

Mingus was already at the peak of his powers but he was also at a point of soulsearching and financial chaos. He was coming off the phenomenal 1963 recording, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (Verve) in addition to various business forays that collapsed (including his own record label) with almost everything to prove (to himself and his admirers). The year itself was politically charged as well with it being an American presidential election year and the civil rights movement if full swing. And to top things off, Beatlemania hit in January.

Charles Mingus was already effected by the political climate as shown in his recordings, "Meditations on Integration" and "Fables of Faubus"--the latter written about the Arkansas Govenor Orval Faubus who tried keep kids segregated in 1957.

In the spring of '64 Mingus took a sextet which was probably one of his most formidable (includng Eric Dolphy, Jaki Byard and Clifford Jordan) to Europe for a three week stint. The tour dates were amazing and the sets cosnsisted of the aforementioned pieces as well as Mingus lovely tribute to Art Tatum and Fats Waller, simply titled "ATFW". For all Mingus' personal complexities he always would somehow show a real side of beauty, especially on this tour with "ATFW," his tribute to Charlie Parker "Parkeriana" and "So Long Eric" decicated to his saxophonist and so to legendary, Eric Dolphy, who had announced to Mingus that after the European tour he was planning on staying in Europe.

The live recordings from this period a in abundance and all have quite good to excellent sound quality. The most readily available is The Great Concert (Verve) recorded on April 19th, which is famous for two reasons--first, the concert was dedicated to Johnny Coles (trumpet) who collpased during the previous date, from what would later be diagnosed as an ulcer. His trumpet was placed on the stage in tribute by Mingus. Secondly, these would be a few of the final live dates for Eric Dolphy as he would die from complication of diabeties in June of '64.

Recently a set of reissues of the gigs prior to the Great Concert recording have been released and while not shedding a great deal of new light on the proceedings, are just great to have from a chronological order perspective. The Complete Live In Amsterdam (Jazz Collectors) recorded April, 10th, includes an insightful interview in the booklet with Eric Dolphy right after the gig in which he discusses his playing, influences and creative vision.

The Complete Bremen Concert (Jazz Lips Records) recorded April 16th, is the last full concert for Johnny Coles prior to his accident. The performances from Jaki Byard on "ATFW" and Dolphy on "So Long Eric" are rich and stunning. Well worth the find and money. The following night would be the first of two Paris perfomances.

The Salle Wagram Concert (Jazz Collectors) has been pretty widely available but does include a nice but short version of "Peggys Blue Skylight" which doesn't feature on any of the other dates. Nice but not necessarilly essential. And finally you get to the The Great Concert recorded at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. This is a powerful performance considering all that had happened prior and what would happen following. The tracks "Meditation..." and "Orange Was The Colour" are a couple of my favourites from this date.

Overall, if you only find The Great Concert you are still listening to a excellent piece of jazz history. But for a nice weekend listen (and a large dose of jazz overkill) the entire dates of April 10 - April 19th are perfect opportunities to experience one of the legendary figures in jazz along side one of his best groups in prime form during a truly developing time in American history.

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