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Charles Mingus: Town Hall Concert

Original Jazz Classics/Universal Music; Rs. 295 (CD)

Charles Mingus gave at least two Town Hall concerts. The first, in 1962, had a big band performing new compositions for which the musicians were unprepared. By all accounts a disaster, it was still full of the passion and vibrancy of the extraordinary prime mover.

The concert in 1964, containing both of the two long tracks on this album, followed a European tour and reprised music performed on the tour. The personnel supporting the bassist-composer-leader are Johnny Coles, trumpet; Clifford Jordan, tenor saxophone; Eric Dolphy, alto sax, bass clarinet and flute; Jaki Byard, piano; and Dannie Richmond, drums. Dolphy, immensely valued by Mingus, plays a stellar role in the music performed here. After his premature death aged 35 a few months later, Mingus renamed both the tracks featured here in his memory.

“So Long Eric”, the first, weighs in at 17-odd minutes, while “Praying with Eric”, the second, lasts 27-odd minutes. Dolphy wields the alto sax on “So Long Eric”, set in a brisk tempo in which Mingus starts off by rendering the theme, solo, before the ensemble enters. Solo improvisations on trumpet, piano and alto sax follow, this last punctuated by a brief interlude with Dolphy and the ensemble alternating in a call-and-response. Mingus next takes a solo and then has some exchanges with Richmond, after which he and Dolphy play a duo improvisation, before the ensemble returns for the theme.

“Praying With Eric” starts slower but speeds up during certain passages. With these variations in tempo and its greater duration, studded with even more solo improvisations by different instruments, it offers a greater palette of sound textures. Besides, Dolphy alternates between bass clarinet and flute on the opening theme and the solos on this track, proving he has equal virtuosity on all three instruments. Mingus too proves his versatility by bowing the bass instead of plucking it on some of his solos during this piece. Byard, Coles and Jordan pitch in with solos, all making this one of the richest tracks and probably the longest on any jazz album I’ve heard.

JAZZEBEL

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