In the last few years newly discovered archival jazz recordings have accounted for some of the best-selling and most acclaimed “new releases.” In fact, Down Beat magazine created a category for “historic recordings” because titles by Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane were rating higher than newly recorded albums. Of course jazz no longer really produces figures who inspire awe on the level of Ellington, Armstrong, and Gillespie, or even Getz, Blakey, and Mulligan, so it’s no surprise that when a fairly high quality live session surfaces, it’s a big deal.
That’s certainly the case with Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964 (Blue Note), a recording recently discovered by Sue Mingus that, according to the liner notes by Gary Giddins, was unknown to all scholars and discographers of Mingus. “Apparently no one,” Giddins writes, “with the presumable exception of students who were actually there, knew the event took place.” The show occurred just after a stint at New York’s Five Spot, where Mingus debuted the sextet (reedists Dolphy and Clifford Jordan, pianist Jaki Byard, drummer Dannie Richmond, and trumpeter Johnny Coles), and a few weeks before the legendary Town Hall concert. After Town Hall the group left on a rigorous European tour (a slew of live albums from this period has been released over the years); Dolphy quit and Coles wound up in the hospital before it was over.
Cornell 1964 captures the band at a real peak, bristling with excitement, energy, and a real sense of discovery. Mingus repeatedly shouts with joy and there’s no wonder why—this gig kicked serious ass. After opening with a solo take on “ATFW You” from Byard and a bass-piano duet on “Sophisticated Lady,” the band rips it up. The double CD includes thirty minute versions of “Fables of Faubus” and “Meditations,” so all the musicians are given generous space to improvise. The recording may not fill in as huge a gap as Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Blue Note, 2005), a long-overdue document of a brief association, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t essential. This was a motherfucker of a band, and getting the chance to hear it play with such passion is a real treat. Keep the discoveries coming.