I'm wondering whether the reviewer Mike Richman actually listened to this album, or just looked at the names of the personnel and decided from there how the music sounds. I challenge anyone with even a remote interest in jazz to listen to this version of Fables of Faubus and propose there is "nothing exciting" about it. This band, though obviously propelled by the rhythm section of Mingus and Richmond, tear into this piece like never before. As an interesting experiment, and to illuminate the genius of Charles Mingus, listen to "Fables of Faubus" as recorded on Mingus Ah Um, then the version on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus (featuring audible lyrics, as well as Dolphy on sax), then listen to this version.
Over the course of 4 or 5 years, Mingus evolved this piece from a standard bop tune with a great theme, to a veritable epic masterwork with interweaving melodies and furious energy. In terms of sheer virtuosity and brilliant composing, this performance nearly rivals Mingus's greatest work, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. This version of "Fables" is at a higher tempo than the previous recordings, yet the band never lets up for a moment. Just when you think the piece may be winding down to a finale, the players introduce a completely new section, or they revitalize a melody from 10 minutes earlier. Even at 23 minutes in length, this performance doesn't drag for a second. Along the way, you get Mingus and Richmond howling along with the music, John Handy pulling aural cartwheels in order to keep up with them, and, as an additional musical affirmation of ethnicity in this already politically-charged composition, the whole band revisits the rollicking theme of Ysabel's Table Dance from Mingus's Tijuana Moods. No, jazz fans, there is no lack of excitement here.
In addition to New Fables, you also get Meditations (on a pair of wire cutters), a piece about integration, whose sophistication and understatement puts Mingus on par with almost any of his classical music contemporaries. The torment in his bowed bass will leave you haunted and speechless.
It is a shame that Mingus withdrew from the jazz scene amidst a slew of personal and mental problems, right at the height of his creative powers in 1965. This 1964 disc, along with the newly reissued UCLA performance, are testament to his legacy, along with Ellington, as the greatest of all jazz composers, and a powerful, unpredictable bandleader. Charles Mingus continued to exert his compositional prowess on "Let My Children Hear Music" and his other late-period releases, but never again would any of his bands match the fire and fury attained during the era of RIGHT NOW.