Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mingus Raw

Yesterday I happened to mention that “Charles Mingus used to be very fussy about receiving respectful attention at a club gig.”  Actually, he was very sensitive about being recorded under proper conditions.  If this meant “live” recording, then he simply did not want any extraneous noise coming from the audience.

Nevertheless, “live” conditions are inevitably problematic,  Many of the venues in which Mingus performed were not really set up for good recording conditions.  Worse yet, many of them gave little attention to the risks that the gigs might be illegally recorded.  This was Mingus’ real sore spot;  and one cannot blame him, particularly in light of just how poor those unauthorized recordings can be.

Nevertheless, the age of the CD seems to have brought with it an age of legitimizing such recordings;  and I have to confess that I often buy the stuff.  After all, Mingus’ relationship with the recording industry was so rocky that those of us who want a satisfactory sample of his qualities as a performer have to take what we can get.  That is my feeling about the recordings made at Slug’s in New York in 1970.  The sound quality is dismal, but Mingus’ solo work comes through with enough strength to satisfy the serious listener.  There is also a particularly wild quality to Dannie Richmond’s drumming that was more muted in more “formal” recording situations.  The same can be said of the free-blowing melody work of Charles McPherson and Jimmy Voss on saxophones and Bill Hardman on trumpet.  Meanwhile, since this whole recording was probably made with a concealed microphone on audience side, there is an ample supply of audience chatter (some of which probably had to do with ordering drinks).

In many ways these recordings amount to a study in adverse conditions.  However, when we consider how little attention has been given to listening to jazz under better conditions, they were probably also “business as usual” conditions.  The fact that, in the midst of all that chaos, there is still much for the serious listener says something about how much work Mingus would put into each of his gigs.

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