Charles Mingus – Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus – Impulse/Universal/Analogue Productions stereo-only SACD CIPJ 54 SA, 40.4 min. [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
(Charlie Mingus – doublebass & piano; 11-piece band includes Booker Ervin, Eric Dolphy, Jaki Byard, Charlie Mariano, Jerome Richardson & Britt Woodman)
The Gil Evans Orchestra – Out of the Cool – Impulse/Universal/Analogue Productions stereo-only SACD CIPJ 4 SA, 37.6 min. [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
(15-piece band including Gil Evans, piano; Ray Beckenstein, reeds; Jimmy Knepper, trombone, Ron Carter, bass & Elvin Jones, percussion)
Both of these SACDs are part of an Impulse label 25-SACD reissue project of Acoustic Sounds, which is now being distributed by Harmonia mundi. All are super-classics and generally benefit immensely from the enhancement, even though the analog tape originals have in some cases a few artifacts. The Mingus session dates from 1963 and the Evans from 1961; Bob Thiele produced the Mingus and Creed Taylor the Evans sessions.
I happened to have the Impulse standard CD reissues of both albums, and made an A/B comparison with the SACDs. Anyone with half an ear could immediately hear the outstanding improvements in the SACD sonics from the very first track on both albums. The first track on the Mingus CD has no deep bass support, making his doublebass sound thin and unrealistic. The entire soundstage of the band seemed flat, without depth to it. On the SACD Mingus‘ bass sounds and feels like a real doublebass, with great presence. Over on the right channel are percussion sounds which on the CD are almost like clanks rather than the variety of different non-drum-head percussive sounds. The added high end of the SACD brings them into focus with great detail.
The Gil Evans album has a diagram of where the 15 musicians are placed spatially, similar to many Japanese audiophile albums. Evans’ piano is right center, and on the CD of the initial track it sounds small and somewhat distant. There is also guitar on the left channel – also sounding small and too soft. On the far right channel is the percussion, with some cymbals sounding dulled and distant. Switching to the SACD had the instruments still sounding a bit distant but now the piano was much more realistic and in focus, and the guitar was somewhat closer and cleaner-sounding. The added high frequency component on the percussion on the right side made it much more true to life. In general the impact of both bands was definitely up a notch, as well as the clarity and spatiality of the various performers.
The Mingus session is one of best of his career, all original compositions or arrangements and with top sidemen. His semi-improvised ensemble style didn’t always work perfectly every time, but here everyone is right on it and things swing tightly. His energizing and often unexpected music comes thru with unique force. (I must mention a hilarious notation I recall laughing at years ago on the original Impulse LP, which was repeated on the CD and is still here in the SACD note booklet on the page with the tune titles, personnel and Analogue Productions credits – where it could have easily been deleted. It proclaims, in caps: “THE NEW WAVE OF FOLK MUSIC IS ON IMPULSE!…Ethnic Folk-Dance Music.”)
Out of the Cool is one of the landmark larger-ensemble recorded sessions in the modern jazz world. Gil Evans carefully selected his players as the very best outlet for his wide-ranging musical ideas, and he gave them great freedom – not notating every note they were to play. He left plenty of room for improvised solos, sometimes just giving the performers a simple sketch. Trombonist Knepper takes a lovely solo in Where Flamingos Fly, and in Bilbao Evans honors the Kurt Weill tune with a rich and original orchestration. It features an unusual percussion instrument with five tones which was invented by a player in Sausalito, California where I used to live and heard it during its development. The Lydian Concept style of George Russell is heard in Stratusphunk, and strikes me as even more successful than Russell’s own recording.
TrackList – Mingus5: II B.S., I X Love, Celia, Mood Indigo, Better Get Hit in Yo’ Soiul, Theme for Lester Young, Hora Decubitus
TrackList – Gil Evans: La Nevada (Snow), Where Flamingos Fly, Bilbao Song, Stratuspunk, Sunken Treasure
– John Henry