Charles Mingus :: Live at Montreux, 1975

These days, when Charles Mingus is remembered, it’s primarily for records like Mingus Ah Um, Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus or The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. All great records, but Mingus kept recording and playing for another decade-plus -- indeed, he was recording almost up until his death from ALS in 1979.

Live in Montreux, released earlier this year by Eagle Rock as a two-CD set and as a standalone DVD, is a look at Mingus in his autumn years. He’s older and has less to prove, but he’s still full of fire and outrage. Who else would write a composition about Governor Rockefeller’s decision to send armed police into the Attica prison?

At this juncture, Mingus had been playing with the same core group for some time. Don Pullen was on piano, George Adams on reeds and Danny Richmond was on drums. All three had appeared live with him on the Carnegie Hall record, not to mention studio ones like Mingus Moves or Changes. As such, when they appeared live at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 20, 1975, they were a solid unit.

The set opens with ‘Devil Blues,” where Adams shouts like a preacher and the band wails behind him. Set against a slow, plodding beat, the tune is downright dirty and bluesy, especially with a tasty trumpet solo by Jack Walrath, where he stretches out with a rich, full tone. From there, Pullen takes a nice solo, and Adams alternates between raging vocals and overblown saxophone. Anchoring it all is Mingus’ walking bass line and Richman’s steady beat.

On the next tune, which Mingus pointedly introduces as “Cell Block F Tis Nazi USA,” the band crashes into another later Mingus composition, but one which shows his talent for creating a distinctive melody — with a hook could have fit right into the Ellington songbook — before Adams launches into a twisting solo, where his sax sounds like it’s struggling against the amount of effort Adams is throwing into it.

Charles Mingus :: Cell Block F

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