Charles Mingus / Eric Dolphy - Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964

Blue Note

Release date: July 17th 2007

Recording date: March 18th 1964

Cornell 1964 cover

These tapes made at Cornell University in March 1964 have been made available for the first time by Sue Mingus, Charles Mingus' widow and continuing champion. While the sound quality is not exemplary by any means and while similar material from this time has been available ("Town Hall Concert 1964", "Mingus In Europe Vols 1 and 2" and "The Great Concert, Paris, 1964") the "Cornell 1964" concert is still a major release. At over 130 minutes and with extended versions of "Fables of Faubus" and "Meditations" clocking in at 30 minutes each, this is a full blooded exposure to the music of two of the key innovators in jazz.

Three years after appearing with John Coltrane at the Village Vanguard , Eric Dolphy had joined the Charles Mingus Sextet in preparation for the 1964 tour of Europe. He had been playing in Charles Mingus' experimental "The Jazz Workshop" since 1960 and together they had recorded great but largely unremarked on music for Nat Henthoff's short lived radical "Candid" label. Eric Dolphy was a natural choice to join the European tour.

As is frequently observed, the music of Charles Mingus is encycopaedic, idiosyncratic at the same time as portraying a new universalism. At times seeming like a version of the revivalist prayer meetings that he had been part of in his upbringing in Nogales - replete with whoops and shouts, spoken comments - it is nevertheless firmly centred in the blues. It draws on the near symphonic approach of Duke Ellington. It makes no apology for immediate social commitment. It points forward to the music of Weather Report and unmistakably to the music of that most well-known non-jazz jazzman, Frank Zappa. (Frank Zappa lists Eric Dolphy as one who "contributed materially in many ways to make (his) music what it is" in the liner notes to his album "Freak Out!" You can't listen to "Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress….. without thinking that Frank Zappa should have added Charles Mingus to that list).

"Cornell 1964" captures this dynamic head on. Charles Mingus presides on bass (not very well represented in the mix) while Eric Dolphy is featured on all three of his instruments (alto sax, bass clarinet and flute). The group is completed by Clifford Jordan (saxophone), Johnny Coles (trumpet) and two long time Charles Mingus associates Jaki Byard (piano) and Dannie Richmond (drums).

Opening with Jaki Byard's piano solo "ATFW You," dedicated to Art Tatum and Fats Waller, and followed by Charles Mingus' solo on Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady", the audience is drawn in before the septet comes together for "Fables of Faubus," from 1959's "Mingus Ah Um". It takes the form of a satirical tribute to Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus , who in 1957 sent in the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the integration of Little Rock Central High School by nine African American teenagers, who became known as "The Little Rock Nine". You can't hear the spoken parts in the "Cornell 64" recording (to hear all that you need to track down the Candid recording "Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus" ) but the spirit of the condemnation and satire comes over clearly in the wide ranging musical references.

"Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk" is a sensuous, sinewy piece with plenty of space for Eric Dolphy's inventive bass clarinet to speak out while the lengthy "Meditations" takes an almost symphonic approach around Charles Mingus' bowed bass and the impressionistic flights delivered by piano and Eric Dolphy on flute. It emerges as a serious and major work.

"So Long Eric" was intended as an ironic farewell to Eric Dolphy who had decided to set out his stall in Germany once the European tour was completed. Without anyone knowing it at the time, this was to become a tragically early obituary following Eric Dolphy's untimely death of a coma induced by undiagnosed diabetes in Berlin just twelve weeks later, Charles Mingus remarked: "I don't think he was aware just how good he was".

"Take the 'A' Train" is a joyous, off kilter version of the well known Duke Ellington standard while the equally optimistic sounding "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" is included since the performance date was St Patrick's Day.

The concert ends with Fats Waller's classic, “Jitterbug Waltz,” featuring Dolphy on flute. The song has been taken up recently by Greg Osby with good results.

Overall, this is a very involving concert that adds to the Charles Mingus legacy.

The Blue Note site has 6 minute audio clips of "Fables of Faubus", "Orange Was The Color….." and "So Long Eric" and a video clip taken from the Belgium leg of the European tour featuring "So Long Eric".

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1 comment:

Rob J said...

It beggars belief that this live recording has never been given an official release until 2007. What is apparent that Mingus had a great band behind him.

Eric Dolphy is in magnificent form throughout, especially on the lengthy version of "So Long,Eric" It is too bad that he would be dead within a short time of this fine performance. Mingus is flawless and it would appear he was having a great time, although it is not always clear what he is saying. The music moves along accordingly to his mood, but it can be said this is an exciting addition to his impressive back catalogue.