Monday, May 22, 2017

Charles Mingus - Town Hall Concert

The great jazz bassist and composer made two identically-titled albums, one recorded in 1962 and one two years later. The earlier Town Hall Concert was chaotic and confusing, with incomplete and mistitled tracks and uncertain personnel. The 1964 Town Hall Concert is magnificent: one of Mingus' very finest albums.

Mingus's band here is one of his very finest: Johnny Coles on trumpet, the great Eric Dolphy on flute, alto sax, and bass clarinet, Clifford Jordan on tenor sax, pianist Jaki Byard, and drummer Dannie Richmond, in addition to Mingus on bass. This lineup played several concerts in the US before leaving for a European tour a few days after this April 4, 1964 concert. Unfortunately, they had to play most of the dates in Europe as quintet rather than a sextet; Johnny Coles collapsed on stage one week into the tour and had to be hospitaltized.

Town Hall Concert was first released on Mingus's own Jazz Workshop label in 1971. My copy is a slightly later (I'm not sure how much later) reissue on Fantasy; I've had it for about 40 years. The album consists of two long tracks, and they're stunning. "So Long Eric" is a plain old blues, but the strength of the solos by these amazing musicians and Mingus's compositional instincts make it something far above the ordinary. The textures are constantly changing, and the background riffs are unusual, and hint at polytonality. The 27-minute "Praying With Eric" (aka "Meditations") is deeply moving, and is one of Mingus's major achievements. Here's a partial performance from two weeks after the Town Hall performance, without Johnny Coles.

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