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Record Store Day Preview Listening Report: The Lost Mingus Album From Ronnie Scott’s

Mark Smotroff rejoices over a jazz legend’s late peak period archival release…

Stepping back and looking at the big picture here, the music world will soon have much to be thankful for on Record Store Day (April 23) when a new officially recorded live Charles Mingus album will be released from the archives: Mingus: The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott’s. Thankful, not only because of the artist making the music but also for the actions — back in the day and onwards to present times — of his wife Sue, without whom the new release likely never would have happened. 

This recording no doubt celebrates a comeback period for the artist. But Sue Mingus should be celebrated as well as she was responsible for the no-doubt difficult work of bringing Mingus out of his non-productive, years-long depression funk of the mid-late 1960s… for figuring out how to get him funded (he received a Guggenheim fellowship for composition in 1971)…  for helping him get his health more in order…  and ultimately steering his career back on track towards creative music making (she became Mingus’ manager, organizing and booking his tours).

It was a fragile balance and it is all covered in wonderful detail in the liner notes found inside Mingus: The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott’s which I am still working my way through — it includes in depth essays by Mingus scholar Brian Priestley, reflections by Mingus alumni Charles McPherson and Eddie Gomez, an excerpt from Sue Graham Mingus’ book Tonight At Noon: A Love Story, memories from Ronnie Scott’s wife Mary and even an interview with friend & legendary author Fran Lebowitz.

That this recording was made at all — and that it survived the trials and tribulations of the volatile music industry of the times — is remarkable. Consider that just after the album was recorded — and after Columbia Records had issued Mingus’ fantastic and well-received comeback release Let My Children Hear Music — label head Clive Davis decided to clean house of many of their (seemingly non-fusion oriented) jazz artists (including Mingus, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Ornette Coleman). 

And, then Clive was fired! 

Talk about an industry bloodbath!

So, while this time-frame was potentially a major tragedy for Mingus, he did seemingly rebound OK, resurfacing in fairly short order again on Atlantic Records (where he’d been for a good portion of the 60s and even in the 1950s).  

And as we learn in the liner notes, Sue Mingus had helped Charles navigate the no-doubt confusing and murky waters to apply for those grant monies at that time (a process no doubt foreign to many musicians then and remarkably so, today as well) so I suspect they were able to move on without too much difficulty (as opposed to what happened to him in the mid 60s, culminating in a rock bottom moment when he was evicted from his apartment!).  

On Mingus: The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott’s, we learn that Mingus had multi-track recorded the band’s last two gigs as he and his band wrapped up a successful European comeback tour. Again, it had been made with an eye to a commercial release but it was unfortunately shelved due to the circumstances mentioned earlier. Fortunately, the recordings were archived on the Mingus’ personal shelves and were not  lost in record label vault purgatory. Kudos to Resonance Records producer Zev Feldman for navigating this album’s long overdue release! 

Newly mixed from those original eight-channel multi-track tape recordings, the first time vinyl lacquers were mastered by Bernie Grundman himself and the physical discs were manufactured at the prestigious RTI pressing plant. 

The recording quality here is excellent, presenting a nice, natural Stereo sound stage that feels open and remarkably air-y. Mingus’ bass is locked in dead center with drummer Roy Brooks and is not lost in the mix (a factor I never take for granted even in an archival release). 

The RTI pressings are top notch: quiet, well centered, 180-grams thick and sturdy.  The album comes housed in a lush triple gate-fold design cover with great photos of the band and the man in action. The album is also available on a triple CD package as well. 

Ultimately Mingus: The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott’s is about the music and the performances and song selections here are exemplary. The group is smoking from the opening number “Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Silk Blues.”  “Noddin Ya Head Blues” is previewed here (it ultimately appearing on the 1977 studio release Three Or Four Shades Of Blues)

The nearly 35-minute version of “Fables of Faubus” here is fantastic. And this album gives us a number of first time official releases including “The Man Who Never Sleeps” and “Mind Reader’s Convention In Milano” — aka “Number 29.”

The latter, a half-hour opus, was apparently designed to intentionally challenge his band, a notion which reminds me of Frank Zappa’s now legendary “Black Page,” reputedly one of the most difficult pieces of his to perform. Actually, the more I listen the more I realize there are so many parallels to Zappa’s music from this period (especially on parts of Waka/Jawaka, and The Grand Wazoo), I can’t help but wonder what might have happened had the two connected or perhaps even toured together.  

But I digress….

Mingus: The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott’s is of course a showcase for the musicians in the band, some of whom were relatively new to the Mingus universe. Trumpeter Jon Faddis steps up to the plate to hit many home runs here at just 19 years of age. Drummer Roy Brooks shines in lieu of longtime Mingus associate Dannie Richmond (who was apparently supporting the Mark-Almond band at the time) and even performs a fabulous SAW solo (yes, you read that right and his playing is quite beautiful, humorous and even a bit haunting, especially on “Noddin’ Ya Head Blues”!). And longtime Mingus Alto Saxophonist Charles McPherson is joined by Tenor Saxophone/Clarinet wizard Bobby Jones, rounding out quite a tight little horn section. 

Mingus: The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott’s is really a no brainer for you to pick up.  Only 5,000 copies of this set were made which sounds like a lot but I suspect it will be a much in-demand album this Record Store Day. You should grab a copy as soon as you can!

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