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Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy:
Cornell 1964

The Stop Smiling Tuesday Reviews

(Blue Note)

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964
(Blue Note)

Charles Mingus: bass
Eric Dolphy: alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet
Clifford Jordan: tenor saxophone
Johnny Coles: trumpet
Jaki Byard: piano
Dannie Richmond: drums

A glance at the hall-of-fame personnel suggests that this previously unreleased recording will be something special. But the reality is something so truly transcendent that it beggars disbelief. At the time of this recording in 1964, the Mingus Sextet was in multi-dimensional bloom, its members' musical identities clearly and individually defined, yet enmeshing so artfully that a direct comparison can be made to the Boston Celtics team who won the NBA title that same year.

On this evening in Ithaca, the sextet played over two hours of music, split by a single intermission that here provides a convenient break between CDs of this two-disc set. Pianist Jaki Byard introduces the program with the solo piece "AFTW You." Referencing everything from the stride styles of James P. Johnson to Andrew Hill's outré bop and the tenderest Ellingtonion keystrokes, Byard's playing announces the group's intention to seamlessly encompass nearly ever facet of 20th century acoustic jazz. Which they then proceed to do.

The fact that Eric Dolphy was only three months away from his diabetes-related death at age 36 is almost perplexingly tragic: here he glows with creative virility, his bass clarinet a chicory-scented wonder. For Dolphy buffs this release is like a Dead Sea scroll: While the poor sound fidelity of some Dolphy live recordings make them mere curiosities (e.g. Clifford Brown + Eric Dolphy Together, recorded live in Dolphy's home in 1954), Cornell 1964 is a stupendously clear recording. The balance between the instruments is ideal, their presence intimate, the crowd's radiant applause creating a full sense of the room's dynamic.

The recording also finds the notoriously irascible Mingus in good humor. "Yeah baby!" he enthuses after an especially tasty run by Byard, one of his many exhortations throughout. Moreover, as reflected by Mingus's affectionate asides, there's a genuine closeness between audience and group. During a rigorous, seventeen and a half-minute run at Ellington's "Take The 'A' Train," Mingus and Dannie Richmond go at it, drums and bass engaging in a call and response that's something like an old Lewis & Martin comedy routine, the audience audibly guffawing as Mingus pratfalls up the neck of his bass between the straight-man set-ups of Richmond's snap-tight snare drum.

The group had no weak link. Clifford Jordan, whose name should be regularly mentioned beside Sonny Rollins as a tenor sax colossus for the ages, shines on a super-bop version of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." While Johnny Coles' trumpet playing at times borders on the demure, his cooler shadings give the group's overall tonal palette essential depth. Ultimately, this is a special classic, profoundly satisfying, full of unforced surprises. As yet another thrilling passage of "Jitterbug Waltz" roars in, you'll find yourself crying "Yesss!" right along with Mingus.

Peter Relic



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