This is an excellent work by the great jazz composer and bassist, dense, full of tone colors, and extremely well recorded. "Free Cell Block F, 'Tis Nazi U.S.A." is about as good as anything Mingus has ever done; and is definitely one of the best of his later compositions. The opening riff breaks into a deeply satisfying tenor solo by George Adams. Colors and tones fly everywhere, it's a near-perfect combination of straight-ahead and the avant-garde. It also features a beautiful piano solo by Don Pullen, and, of course, the incomparable Dannie Richmond mixing things up on drums. There's a lush, almost traditional sound to the piano, yet Mingus and the band always keeps things interesting and off-balance. The trips up and down the scales have an almost jokey feeling to them (as does some of the piano on Track 2), but the music comes at you with such force and density that the song maintains its power. For Mingus fans, this piece alone justifies the purchase of this album.
Another great Mingus title (literally) is "Orange was the Color of Her Dress, Then Silk Blue." This gets the Mingus film noire treatment, it's expressive and cinematic and hints at mystery. At two minutes it swings into full gear, with excellent interplay between Adams and Jack Walrath (trumpet). It's similar in conception to Track 1: A lush orchestral sound meeting twists and flourishes of the "3rd Wave." Pullen has a magnificently expressive, beautiful piano piece, and Mingus comps superbly. It's hard to decide whether this or `Free Cell Block' is the better composition. There's some jumbly piano poundings at the end--I think it's a bit overdone--but Mingus reigns it in, and the sax and densely arranged instrumentation brings it all back home. Mingus' bass is supremely rich and soulful, and he and George Adams really tear it up at the song's finale.
"Black Bats and Poles" is a full-bodied piece that's a little too amped for me-there's almost an electronic Miles Davis sound to Walrath's trumpet that, for me, didn't quite work. Periodically, Mingus and Pullen break free from a dull, repeated 3-note background riff to liven things up. George Adams has some excellent solos against the changing tempos.
Jackie Paris is the "guest vocalist" on "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love." I like Mingus' very personal lyrics, but I don't think Paris added much to the piece. At about two minutes, there's a very good (albeit too brief ) Ben Websterish solo by Adams, and here and there orchestral sounds that recall Ellington. I really didn't like the song much on first hearing, but am beginning to appreciate it more now (especially as I hear the lyrics). An instrumental version appears on "Changes One." Track 5 is another tribute, this time with a moody atmosphere and a blues-like bass riff. This is a powerful number with surging drums and bass, thoughtful and beautifully played sax, and Pullen's crisp yet soulful playing. The latter is simply outstanding. This time, Walrath gets a more pinched sound from the trumpet, again recalling Miles, but with a mute. Every solo on this composition is excellent, and the unifying theme and rhythm complete a solid melody. Overall, this is an excellent, joyous CD. I recommend it highly, especially for those who haven't heard much of the Mingus' later output. Clearly, his genius is with him.