Charles Mingus was one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. His contributions to music are usually discussed within the annals of jazz. However, propagating him as just a luminary for jazz shortchanges him. While he certainly belongs in the jazz realm, his music goes far beyond that. He shouldn’t be considered as just a jazz great; he is great in an all-encompassing manner. He was a visionary who wasn’t afraid to go beyond the stylistic cues of whatever was in favor at the time. He often infused sociopolitical issues into his compositions, something that didn’t help his standing with the status quo. He did things his way, and the results were typically spectacular.
One fine example of this is the album, The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady. Mingus described it as “ethnic folk-dance music”. It was four songs, divided into six movements. Mingus wrote it in the vein of a ballet. All the songs have subtitles. Some of the subtitles of the movements are titled “(Soul Fusion) Freewoman and Oh, This Freedom’s Slave Cries”, “Stop! Look! And Sing Songs of Revolutions!” and “Of Love, Pain, and Passioned Revolt, then Farewell, My Beloved, ’til It’s Freedom Day”. Looking at those subtitles, it’s quite clear that this was a statement piece for Mingus. He invoked civil rights, freedom, love, pain, anger, frustration and a host of human emotions that he felt needed to be addressed. He did it convincingly, taking the listener on a tumultuous, provocative and exciting ride. He manages to shift the mood and tone of the music, from melancholy to exhilarating.
Joining Mingus on the recording are ten other musicians, making it an eleven piece band. The musicians are Jay Berliner on guitar, Jaki Byard on piano, Dannie Richmond on drums, Don Butterfield on tuba, Richard Gene Williams on trumpet, Rolf Ericson on trumpet, Dick Hafer on flute and tenor saxophone, Jerome Richardson on flute, soprano saxophone and baritone saxophone, Charlie Mariano on alto saxophone and Quentin Jackson on trombone. In addition to his bass duties, Mingus also played a little piano as well. The arrangement by Mingus is nothing short of brilliant. There are a lot of tonal differences between something light like a flute or a soprano sax, and something like a tuba. Mingus’ arrangements emphasize their differences, allowing them to come in on cue, almost like they were speaking to each other. If you listen enough, you’ll come to tie the wails and dissonance of some of the instruments as the varying human emotions that Mingus was trying to conjure. It truly is remarkable.
In terms of fidelity, the 45rpm Analogue Productions pressing is stellar. Simply put, I have not heard a better sounding version. This includes the original pressing and the Speakers Corner reissue, both of which are sonically impressive. The 45rpm AP reissue is the definitive pressing to own. The bass sounds all around tighter. There is more air and space around the instruments. A perfect example is on Track B ‘Duete Solo Dancers’. Jaki Byard’s piano playing just jumps out at you. On the Speakers Corner reissue, it sounds a bit recessed by comparison. If you never heard the AP pressing, it would probably go unnoticed.
This album is perhaps one of Mingus’ finest moments as a bandleader, arranger and composer. The 45rpm pressing is the finest it has ever sounded. It’s an essential album to own. I can’t recommend it enough. Do not hesitate to pick this up.