Thirteen Pictures: The Charles Mingus Anthology
Rhino Records R2 71402 (two CDs)
The composer and bassist Charles Mingus, who died in 1979, was something of a lone giant on the landscape of jazz. He came of age in the swing era but emerged from it a relentless, uncompromising innovator who never ceased surprising with his brilliant, dense, rugged music. This collection of recordings from between 1952 and 1978 offers an excellent survey of the wide range of his creativity. He improvises alone at the piano with quiet lyricism, leads small groups that stretch blues, soul, and gospel materials in new directions, and plays elaborate extended works up to twenty-seven minutes long with as many as two dozen other musicians and instruments as diverse as contrabass clarinet, piccolo, cello, and oboe. The masterpieces here include “Meditations on Integration,” “Pithecanthropus Erectus,” and “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” As they amply demonstrate, he often took great risks in trying to combine large-scale structure with improvisatorial freedom for his players, but never without extraordinary energy and comrhand and intelligence. He made jazz sway and stomp with a ragged complexity unlike anyone before or since.