The Charles Mingus Live in '64 Jazz Icon DVD is an incredible record of one of the best jazz ensembles to ever play together. When the sextet performed Meditations in Belgium, they played flawlessly, with Eric Dolphy standing out on both flute and bass clarinet and Mingus experimenting with techniques and timbres on bass and with dropping objects onto the piano's strings during the performance. I am so glad to have the DVD so I can study what the ensemble accomplished together musically. It is especially important for me to have a visual record of these last performances of Eric Dolphy's. Since he died in June of 1964, these are precious records of a musical genius whose life was cut short by undiagnosed diabetes.
Jaki Byard sounds amazing on the recordings also. His knowledge of all types of music seeps into his improvisations. One minute he's evoking Jelly Roll Morton and the next Tchaikovsky and Alban Berg, and Asian flavors blossom, too. Clifford Jordan is an understated player, and he's technically precise with a nice tone quality. His way of working fit perfectly with Mingus' overwhelming and fiery personality. Richmond, an ebullient drummer with an obvious love for playing with this group of musicians follows Mingus well and changes the tempi with precision in Meditations. Coles' trumpet playing is also undertstated, yet beautifully expressive. It's clear Miles Davis had a strong influence on his playing with the bending of notes and lovely tone quality.
Eric Dolpy and Mingus are the stars, however. Dolphy blows my mind with his virtuosity on three instruments. His flute playing is lovely and nuanced and when he grabs the bass clarinet another side of him comes to the fore. Pyrotechnics is the word that comes to mind. His alto saxophone playing is equally mind-numbing.
Mingus put together one of the best groups of musicians ever and composed music perfectly suited to their talents.
I'm more of a Coltrane, Miles, Monk fan, but I knew Mingus was a legend, so I rented this knowing nothing about his 1964 band. When I heard the beautiful & bizarre saxaphone playing, I thought, Could that be Eric Dolphy? Of course it was, & at the peak of his power! No longer a Coltrane follower/acolyte, but a master in his own right.
I've watched the DVD closely & also played it in the background. Mingus gives you a history of Jazz, from New Orleans to Charlie Parker, to the ensemble jazz of late '50's/early '60's, to Dolphy foreshadowing the experimentalism of the mid to late 60's. Though many decried Dolphy (Coltrane & Ayler), they were superb musicians who had mastered many forms of music before trying to break the barriers of time, space & sound. Just like Picasso could paint like a master, before he re-invented himself many times, Dolphy & the suberb band are restless innovators & imporovisers on a high plateau that few mortals will ever ascend to.
I loved the rehearsal snippets where Mingus stops the band. Even though they were doing great by most standards, he was always aiming higher. Inspirational! This is serious music filled with beauty, melancholy, grace & joy. Definitely a peak of modern jazz & American music in general.
Charles Mingus believed that jazz had lost something essential in the interplay between soloist and ensemble after the development of bebop, so his sextet work was focused on bringing back that kind of interplay in a modern idiom. The band on this DVD, Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, Byard, Johnny Coles sextet and the ubiquitous Richmond was the best small group in jazz ever IMO. Hands down better than the overrated second Miles Davis Quintet. The interplay between the players in the sextet is nothing short of incredible - they never leave the stage - always ready for either arranged or improvised ensemble passages in a number. They are a band - a unit - not a collection of soloists. A member of the rhythm section laying out isn't really an arrangement - these guys understand band interplay on an exalted level few have achieved.
Mingus was an excellent arranger and composer, as well as leading his band on stage in improvised arrangements, and encouraging his band to improvise ensemble passages during solos. There are several instances on the video when you can see two of the horn players catch each other's eye while another is soloing and devise a supporting lick then play it behind the soloist. During the long, and carefully arranged, "Meditations On Integration" Mingus places objects in Byard's piano for some improvised prepared piano and Byard doesn't miss a beat. During a scorching Dolphy solo Mingus sings a lick for Dolphy to include in his solo, then Jordan and Coles pick it up and use it in a lick for ensemble support behind Dolphy. What other band could do things like that? There's some true esp in this band.
When a soloist is hot Mingus will cut out the band to allow him full expression, as he does for Jordan during his solo on "Take the A Train" - Mingus is so excited he stomps his feet as he gives Jordan the floor to preach from his pulpit. While soloing the band keeps an eye on each other, and on Mingus, as Mingus allows for moments of elasticity. It's difficult to hear the exact words, but before the band breaks into "Parkerania" you can hear them discussing how many chorus's each will take - Mingus says something like, let's say 5 cause if we say 8 we'll take 10." "Parkerania" doesn't seem to be gelling like it could - so Mingus stops the band in the middle of a Coles solo, stomps out a beat, and they light into "A Train," playing some of the best solos on the whole DVD.
This video is an education in how a small group can become an integrated unit, how modern jazz can effectively use interplay of the ensemble and soloist as in traditional jazz - and do so either prearranged and on the fly - and in the effectiveness of band members staying on stage together to allow for a kind of interplay unattainable otherwise. Furthermore, it shows that a band doesn't need to be made up of stars in order to achieve a rarefied state of excellence.
Why bother with a DVD of Mingus from the sixties, in black and white? Especially when you have the best of his recorded legacy and have heard it a hundred times? A couple of reasons - firstly, Mr Mingus was a composer, conductor and musician of outstanding excellence whose working methods are best revealed visually at the moment of creation. Of many improvising artists, he is one of the most active and passionate in his methods exhorting, listening deeply, using eyes, hands and body to guide, and providing a model of powerful leadership. The viewer is witness to a creative process which he sees evolving before his eyes and feels drawn in to it. The gap between performers and viewer seems small indeed. Secondly, those in his band, like those in the various bands of Duke Ellington, are all masters on their respective instrument, and to be a visual and aural witness to their interactions with Mr Mingus is in itself a lesson in musicianship. Mr Byard is a revelation. One small, observation: Mr Mingus appears to have feet as large as another great American, Michael Phelps!
I got the Mingus for myself and ordered the Monk [ASIN:B000H9HWSC Jazz Icons: Thelonious Monk Live in '66]]for my brother, a life long jazz musician. I'll get the Monk later for myself. I experienced most of these musicians in the 60's and these DVDs are the closest thing to the live club performances that I've experienced. No jumpy cameras; nothing interferes with the music and the performance. You can sense the personality of some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century!!![
This was bought as part of a collection I am assembling as a gift for a family member. Outstanding collections can be found on Amazon - which really surprised me. I hadnt realized you could sit down and really search for that goo old time quality music here at Amazon!! Love their collections!!
2 hours of video of Mingus w/ Dolphy - need I say more? High quality b&w visuals. Sound lacked punch and good, deep bass, but I'm sure it's because I don't have a home theater system and listened to it on my TV speakers.