This has got to be one of the boldest live performances ever -- not because it is wild and shocking but because of its strong emotionality and sparseness. Known for playing with Mingus in 50s (e.g. on Mingus Ah Um and Blues & Roots), Handy appears here, in 1966, with a group of relatively unknown musicians and a curious collection of instruments (alto sax, violin, bass, guitar and drums). After a brief group intro, "If only we knew" is lead off by Handy on alto sax by himself, no accompaniment. Just him and the audience. Don't expect Anthony Braxton style crazy, this is melodic, modal and mind-blowing. Then bass solo, then the remaining instruments gradually add... including one superb and stretching jazz violin solo. The band then cooks up a groove reminiscent of the Coltrane Quartet. That sort of groove is even more apparent in the fast, 6/8 "Spanish Lady", which seriously cooks. If you're interested in 60s modal jazz, this is a under appreciated gem. Highly recommended.
So many great jazz recordings are live renditions of tunes, because it is a characteristic of jazz as opposed to classical music that it will respond to the vibe at the time of playing, spontaneously develop the prepared musical arrangement with feelings of that moment, often determined by the audience.
There must surely have been the most wonderful vibe in Monterey when this set, long overdue in CD version, was performed. If ever there was a piece of music to chill out to in reverential silence and total concentration it is this. Apart from Handy's lovely sax Michael White's violin work is spine-chillingly tender. But so is the bass and guitar work.
If you were gonna give a loved one a present of just one set of music try this. You will be overawed.