August 23, 2007


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Charles Mingus Sextet, Cornell 1964
Blue Note Records, July 17
Jazz has unsubtle similarities to booze. Miles Davis is brandy on ice in relation to the watered-down umbrella drinks of ’80s-era Ramsey Lewis and the egghead-banter martinis of Dave Brubeck. Certain hardcore aficionados want crunk-juice straight up, and to many of them, bandleader/bass savant/confirmed hothead Charles Mingus was straight vermouth in a teaspoon of Gatorade. Though mostly in synch with his post-bop “free jazz” improvisator peers, Mingus had a traditionalist side exemplified by his deep adoration for Duke Ellington, for whom he was once considered the heir apparent. On this live album, toward that, Mingus takes center stage for a seemingly disjointed, random whirlwind of notes that barely hints at the melody for “Sophisticated Lady.” But timid newcomers have sufficient opportunities to get acclimated, such as the readily accessible blues of “So Long Eric” (referring to sax/flute/clarinet legend Eric Dolphy, who plays throughout this album) and the 17-minute big-band-style workout inspired by “Take the A Train.” The sound quality may be comparable to a rushed taping of TV’s Your Show of Shows, but the fact that this 1964 Cornell University concert recording was only recently discovered will surely be, to some (and to wear out the analogy, idem) like popping open a bottle of bubbly from the Titanic. A+Eric W. Saeger.