Written by 4:12 am Audiophile Music • 4 Comments

Charles Mingus’ 1973 Jazz In Detroit Boxed Set Sounds Great On Vinyl, But Is It Definitive?

Mark Smotroff tries to keep his glass half full…

By now many of you Mingus fans out there in audiophile land know of the exciting new archival multi-disc set which was released last year. Celebrating Charles Mingus’ 1973 run at the Strata Concert Gallery in Detroit, these rare tapes unearthed previously unreleased compositions, inspired performances and so on, as you’ve probably heard. I just got my hands on a copy of the album recently.

AR-MingusDetroitProfileImage225.jpgThe interesting thing I discovered while listening to Jazz In Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden and poking around on the web was the disparity of reviews popping up. While most are pretty favorable, some almost made me feel like people were listening to different recordings. One person felt the mix was not good and that Mingus was difficult to hear and that the band was not one of his best. Others fawn over it. These wide swings make me wonder if the reviewers heard the same versions of the album? 

What were they listening to when reviewing Jazz In Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden?  Was it an LP? Was it a CD? Was it a low bitrate stream? Was it an MP3 download? Few reviewers I’ve come across bother to mention this factor. Tooting my own horn a bit, I generally make sure to be real specific about that sort of thing in my reviews.  Its an important detail. Each of those formats and platforms will frequently deliver a different listening experience which can be compounded negatively or positively dependent upon numerous external influences, from the bandwidth of the ISP service for streaming to the quality of the reviewer’s sound system. If a particular incarnation cuts out too much of the musicality of the original recording, its entirely possible that you might have a negative view toward it hearing less bass and a murkiness to the mix. 

Which also leads me to a point I frequently make in earnest to publicists: I rarely will review only a stream or a low resolution format like MP3. Why?  Because I know that the music is usually being compromised somehow, be it from artifacts from the chopping down of a high resolution music file to MP3 size or other anomalies which may be introduced into the stream out of the control of the streaming service (ie. bandwidth choking by ISPs, jitters, etc.).  I admit I have done some reviews off streams and MP3 sources, no doubt. But generally I avoid them if possible. I don’t “inhale,” if you will…

AR-MingusDetroitCover225.jpgSo… what’s my take on the new Mingus’ Jazz In Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden five LP boxed set? I think its pretty deluxe and mostly terrific. The 180-gram vinyl is thick, dark and quiet. The pressings are well centered. They don’t cram too much music per side so the fidelity is fairly optimized. The range of sounds I hear are fabulous for a recording made for a radio broadcast, from crisp naturally decaying cymbals to gently pulsing bass and pounding acoustic piano. It is a pretty simple stereo mix but feels true to the music, the performers and the performance. 

Speaking about the performances: these are exemplary. The band is tight yet swinging, on fire even at times. The musicians are playing for and with Mingus (fer gerdsake, kids!) so there really is no such thing as a lackluster Mingus performance (at least from what I’ve heard over the years). I doubt he would have put up with that from his musicians. Especially when it comes to players like Don Pulllen whom I am a big fan of, every time I hear him it sounds like his life depended on his playing (which it kinda did in a a way); he gives his all to the music and the man.

AR-MingusPlayingBass225.jpg“Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk” (aka “Silk Blues”) is a beautiful, emotional take. One of the album highlights for collectors — the previously unreleased and unrecorded (in Mingus’ lifetime) “Dizzy Profiles” — is worth the price of admission alone as its a lovely piece which apparently is not represented elsewhere in Mingus’ official live releases. 

Probably the only real “ding” I have for this collection has to do with some of the mastering choices relative to where they split the longer performances. I know this is a deal breaker for some of you but it is one of the limitations of the 12-inch long playing vinyl record format. You can usually get about 20 minutes a side, tops without sacrificing fidelity. So, yeah, there are a couple short-ish sides which may raise an eyebrow or three. Due to the length of some of the performances, some songs on the vinyl box set are spread across two sides of an disc. Its a sacrifice probably chosen to maintain quality and also keep the songs in actual performance running order. Its a purist thing. I get it.  For some fans, however, this might be a deal breaker. Others who listen to a lot of vinyl are probably accustomed to the fade out / fade in from when flipping sides.

AR-MingusDetroitBoxSet225.jpgThe CD does however add several additional songs —  “Noddin’ Ya Head Blues” and “Celia” — plus some alternate takes (all of which I have yet to hear, mind you but click here for one of them). So, there is that “completist” factor which makes the CD a bit more definitive in some ways. You can buy individual download tracks from this website (click here) or you could just go on Spotify and listen to it there in whatever fidelity it may be; alas, it is not up on Tidal at present and while I don’t use Spotify for the most part, you can click here to jump to it). Or, you can download it from Amazon (click here) or simply buy the CD version (click here).

That said, the question remains: do you need Mingus’ Jazz In Detroit on vinyl?  That depends on your priorities. If you value fidelity first and foremost, then probably yes. If you value an uninterrupted performance and want all the bonus stuff, then the CD or a stream might be what you need. The completist like me will probably buy the CD at some point just to have the unedited songs and for the several bonus tracks.  Any way you opt for, Mingus’ Jazz In Detroit sounds pretty fabulous and is worth checking out. 


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