This is a must for Mingus fans, and for anyone who enjoys the more experimental jazz sounds of the early 60's. Although there are some fairly challenging numbers, others are more accessible to the newcomer. It's probably his best live CD (rivaled only by "Live at Antibes); the introductions by Mingus, the enthusiastic, respectful audience, and the musicians' spontaneity augment the concert feeling. Long unavailable, the 2-CD set captures well over 2 hours of an April 1964 concert in Paris, part of Mingus' first European tour, and boasts a phenomenal lineup including Eric Dolphy, Jaki Byard, Clifford Jordan, and Dannie Richmond.
Track 1, "A.T.F.W.," alternates between the long complex lines of "A.T." (Art Tatum), and the playful, raggish sounds of "F.W." (Fats Waller), all unified by Mingus' arrangement. Pianist Jaki Byard is all over the map: He plays some bop riffs, then somehow blends this with a New Orleans ragtime sound: It's a kaleidoscopic synthesis of jazz styles. Later, Byard slows the tempo a la Bill Evans, then recapitulates his combination of Waller spirit and Tatum speed. The number is evocative, playful, and light, but also evinces mastery and creativity. Track 2 (just over a minute) is a humorous introduction in which Mingus introduces Johnny Coles` trumpet. According to the liner notes, Coles was hospitalized following a stomach ulcer condition, so Mingus introduced his onstage trumpet.
"So Long Eric" (21:47), like "A.T.F.W.," was not released on the original 3-LP album (America; 003/4/5) due to poor sound quality; Alexis Frenkel's restoration is excellent. Mingus plays the opening riff quietly, then the orchestra enters with typical Mingus assemblage of dissonance , repeated lines, and structured improvisation. Although it's basically a blues piece, it feels ready to burst out of that format at any moment. At a time change, the saxophone does break out into a boppish fast solo; the pairing of the Jordan's long lines and Richmond's punching drums is very effective. The piece changes direction so many times that it's like switching channels on an jazz CD compilation album, yet the emotional content, the tonal center, and the rhythmic constancy preserve its unity. Byard is again brilliant, mixing chords and single notes, and Mingus has some very effective walking bass lines and fast triplets. If this sounds too complex, it isn't, it's an easily enjoyed, and eminently listenable piece. The band quotes "Route 66," from which it seems to borrow much of it harmonic and melodic structure. The composition gets more wild and complex as it proceeds, but this progression is so gradual--like rippling circles turning back onto one another-- that it becomes an organic whole.
On "Orange...,"(Track 4, 14:29) Mingus explains that the piano will play the trumpet part usually performed by the ill Coles. With the deep sounding sax and Dolphy on bass clarinet, the orchestration works. This song has Ellingtonian elegance, to which Mingus adds twists and dissonance. This "mood music" contains several strange voicings backed by Mingus' varying bass tempos and bends, but it returns to the Ellington grand sound later. Byard evens it out with some floaty play. An interesting number that initially requires some concentration. The first CD concludes with "Fables of Faubus," a melodic number that ridicules the segregationist Governor of Arkansas, Orville Faubus. There's some excellent ensemble playing, and the band also expresses anger, confusion, and threat. As if leaving the doubts behind, the band breaks into a more swinging sound at times. An innovative version of a superb and brave composition.
Mingus greatly admired Ellington (he played on the band before a fight with Juan Tizol got him fired), and he opens the second set with "Sophisticated Lady." It's a beautiful, lyrical rendition, with a very tender bass solo playing the melody over piano chords and soft drumming. Definitely an antidote to all those bass solo jokes. Mingus' playing is truly exceptional, and it's a thrilling blend of traditional, romantic elements with some more adventurous riffs. Mingus announces that Charles Parker inspired "Parkeriana (Dedicated to a Genius)," another great with whom Mingus played). The composition begins vigorously, with fast riffs on the sax, but he reconstructs the sounds: There's a flat tonal quality, rapid temp changes, Max Roach "bomb" drum shots, and then several returns to a more traditional bop sound. Mingus sets the bop context that centers the piece, even though he never stays with it very long. Byard plays some superb bop-flavored solos (although he returns playfully to the Fats Waller sound of "A.T.F.W."!), and Mingus clearly enjoys it. During these sections, the song loses some of its original intention; it's dominated by Byard's swing. Then Dolphy takes the lead, and it returns to a more abstract bop stance.
Introducing "Meditation On Integration (Or For A Pair of Wire Cutters)" Mingus refers to "the new concentration camps...in America, in the South." There's "electric barbed wire," and Mingus alludes to the possibility of genocide. The piece opens with a motif that eloquently captures Mingus' introduction. The music implies threat, oppression, and suffering. When the tempo increases, the cut sounds like a warning, as well as a call to action. It's one of his best compositions, combining jazz and Stravinsky in a wide-ranging emotional expression that perfectly captures the themes. While the riffs go in different directions, Mingus' driving bass holds it together. Excellent solos by Dolphy and Jordan, with solid propulsive drums by Dannie Richmond. The composition has some amazing passages, especially the mixture and juxtaposition of solo and ensemble statements. About midpoint, the piece slows to an elegiac pace, with Mingus playing a bowed bass that sounds like a cello (which he once studied), and Byard and Dolphy combining on a Debussy-like interlude.
The liner notes include some interesting but poorly written analysis and anecdotes, although the author sets the historical context well. Some listing of solo order and instrumentation (when possible) would have been helpful. Exciting, fun, and bursting with creativity, this performance stands out as an astonishing masterpiece of that most elusive accomplishment: the jazz "long form."