Charles Mingus’s discography in the first half of 1973 has long been a dead zone. Months earlier in late 1972, the bassist and bandleader returned from a European tour and then headed out in January on a U.S. swing with new band members, including saxophonist John Stubblefield and pianist Don Pullen. That January, the new Charles Mingus Quintet teamed up with Dizzy Gillespie at Carnegie Hall. Sadly, there is no recording of the concert. The quintet also played in Boston that month at the Jazz Workshop. There’s a Japanese bootleg of that performance but it’s impossible to find.
The next stop in the Mingus discography came in July 1973, at New York’s Apollo Theatre. The result has been a six-month gap with no accessible studio-quality recordings documenting Stubblefield’s months with the quintet or Pullen’s early days. That is, until now. As I wrote in my review Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal, a new five-CD boxed set will be released on Monday, November 12, by the U.K.’s BBE Record—Jazz in Detroit/Strata Concert Gallery/46 Selden.
The Strata was a funky, informal jazz club that didn’t serve alcohol and changed its lighting and decor based on the artists playing there. And 46 Selden was the street address.
The newly issued boxed set of previously unreleased material at the Strata is spectacular for many reasons. Saxophonist Stubblefield (above) is showcased and turns in an incredible performance. The same goes for pianist Pullen and trumpeter Joe Gardner. Drummer Roy Brooks is a driving force and Mingus is, well, Mingus.
The source material for the recordings are five two-track tapes recorded by WDET-FM during its live broadcast of the quintet at the club on February 13, 1973. Amir Abdullah, a DJ and music historian, found the tapes in the care of Roy Brooks’s widow. She made them available to BBE with the cooperation of Sue Mingus and the Mingus estate.
The music is plentiful and wonderful. Many of the songs run 20 minutes or longer, and they are hypnotizing. Solos are rich and strong, and the sound is crystal clear and well-mixed. As I noted in my WSJ review, Mingus at this point in time was at war with everyone—avant-garde musicians, the musicians in his own band, jazz critics and even his wife, Sue. Mingus felt deeply underappreciated and, to be honest, he was right. Not long after this gig was recorded, Mingus along with other major acoustic jazz artists such as Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans were dropped from Columbia Records in favour of jazz-rock fusion artists such as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. Later that summer, Hancock would record Headhunters and Davis would record part of Get Up With It, featuring Stubblefield. Mingus signed with Atlantic.
As a result, Mingus’s Jazz in Detroit is a landmark release that fills in a large blank and provides a clearly defined picture of how superb this Mingus quintet was. You have to hear the 25-minute Pithecanthropus Erectus, the 18-minute-plus Peggy’s Blue Skylight, the rare Dizzy Profile (it would never be performed or recorded again) and Noddin’ Ya Head Blues, which wouldn’t be recorded again until 1977 among others. Plus there are alternate takes of most songs from the next set. It’s a bountiful box. If you love Mingus the way I do, the set is a treasure trove of fascinating music. As Jazz in Detroit demonstrates, Mingus was right. The guy was a an acoustic giant whose kingdom was being eclipsed in 1973 by the commercial interests of jazz fusion.