Charles Mingus, Live in ‘64 (2007)

by | Oct 1, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Charles Mingus, Live in ‘64 (2007)

Studio: Reelin’ in the Years Productions 2119006, Distr. by Naxos
Video: 4:3 B&W, all regions
Audio: English DD mono
Extras: 24-p. illustrated booklet with essay “Mingus: Europe 1964” and rare photographs
Length: 120 minutes
Rating: *****

The timing of these three films or kinescopes was propitious, with Mingus at the peak of his career with one of his best groups – Jaki Byard on piano, Dannie Richmond, drums, Johnny Coles, trumpet, Clifford Jordan, tenor sax and Eric Dolphy on reeds.  Dolby was to die of a diabetic reaction less than three months later. Three or four numbers are performed by the band, first in Belgium, then Norway and finally Sweden – sometimes performing the next gig the next day. Although there are duplications of some of the tunes, that is actually an advantage, because the versions are so completely different from one another it illustrates the amazing diversity and improvisatory skill of all the players.  They all had their own particular styles and different approaches to the music, yet under Mingus’ superb leadership everything seemed to jell and a unique ensemble sound resulted. Like his model Ellington, Mingus tailored his compositions to the abilities of his band members, but unlike Ellington he refused to write things down, and encouraged his musicians to change the compositions if they felt like it, expressing how they felt when they were playing. “As long as they start where I start and end where I end,” he told Nat Hentoff.

Dolphy was the most avant of the members, and takes some free jazz solos that spew out high-energy notes in every direction. So Long Eric was titled to reflect that Dolphy had decided to leave the band at the end of the European tour and reside in Europe. The version of the tune they play at the Norway date is 22 minutes long, yet the other two versions are only around five minutes long. The other composition which gets three versions is Mingus’ masterpiece Meditations on Integration.  One of the three is actually a rehearsal for the Swedish date, followed by the performance.  It was unusual to film part of a rehearsal, but this footage provides fascinating insight into how Mingus worked with his players, including the hand signals he sometimes gave them. Trumpeter Coles is not present on one of the dates because he was in the hospital with an ulcer condition.  The band works around his absence smoothly and he is not really missed.

The B&W image quality is high; if these are kinescopes they are some of the best I’ve ever seen.  We can see a TV camera down front in some of the long shots of the band, so they must be.  There are occasional long close ups of some of the players when they are not playing at all, as if the Europeans are totally fascinated with the appearance of these black jazz stars. The mono sound is excellent, as on all the Jazz Icon series, with Mingus’ bass coming thru cleanly.  Since all of the DVDs in this series are a bit dry sonically, I found a modest amount of the “Jazz Club” reverb setting on my AV preamp gave a nice surround feeling – first time I’ve used that setting on any source.

TrackList: Belgium = So Long Eric, Peggy’s Blue Skylight, Meditations on Integration; Norway = So Long Eric, Orange Was the Color of Her Dress Then Blue Silk, Parkeriana, Take the “A” Train; Sweden = So Long Eric (rehearsal & perf.), Mediations on Integration (rehearsal & perf.)

 – John Henry

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