This is perhaps the most cohesive set Mingus ever made, recorded during a crisis of personnel in 1960. After many months with Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Ted Curson had decided to leave. These sessions and a few to follow for Mingus and the Jazz Artists Guild were to be their last tie with Mingus. He decided to set the mood that might resemble a night in the club, hence his announcements on the recording and the reason he wanted the lights turned out during the recording. In these sessions, everyone reached and maintained that level of daring to make their instruments become extensions of themselves.
Bassist-composer Charles Mingus had a reputation for volatile creativity and the ability to press his sidemen to their limits. That said, there's precious little in the Mingus canon that reaches the levels of intensity and unfettered invention of this extraordinary quartet session from November 1960. Mingus and saxophonist Eric Dolphy
were clearly at creative peaks. Mingus's open forms facilitate Dolphy's freedom, and Dolphy's virtuosity and vocal expressiveness (laughing, whinnying, crying, shrieking) on alto and bass clarinet lend Mingus the greatest solo voice his music ever enjoyed. They push the principle of musical dialogue to the point where speech seems about to break out on "Folk Forms No. 1" and in the bass-bass clarinet chatter and grieving of "What Love."
In a way, speech does break out. "Original Faubus Fables," previously recorded as "Fables of Faubus" on Mingus Ah Um, gets the lyrics earlier denied it by Columbia Records. Mingus and drummer Dannie Richmond damn Arkansas's notoriously racist governor, with the bassist calling out, "Why is he so sick and ridiculous, Dannie?" Richmond and trumpeter Ted Curson are excellent players and the sheer tumult carries them to the performances of their careers. Mingus's writing often uses tension-building repeated figures, and Dolphy and Curson virtually function as reed and brass sections at times. It contributes to the illusion of a much larger group, a cauldron of unspoken pain and fresh energies that seems almost too much for any quartet to deliver.
A fifth performance from the session, an extended-band feature for Dolphy's alto on Fats Waller's "Stormy Weather," has never been included on a CD with the rest of the session. Well worth seeking out, it currently appears on Candid Dolphy. --Stuart Broomer