Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Charles Mingus - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady

This one is up by request, but I am glad someone asked me for it, because although I haven't posted too much of his work on here, I am a huge admirer of Charles Mingus. While enormously respectable as a composer, his work truly shines when one listens to his work specifically as jazz and realizes how far Mingus stretched the idiom. While jazz composition frequently is nothing more than a melody which establishes the framework in which the players improvise, Mingus found ways in which his own vision coexists with the musicians' creation. In his own words, "Each man's own particular style is taken into consideration, both in ensemble and in solos". This leads to an extraordinary connection between all players of the ensemble, one that is hard to find except in smaller, usually bebop and post-bop groups. It also opens up possibilities for "collective improvisation", a phrase Mingus used to describe his work. The important thing about this process is that it is very flexible, and hugely responsive. Mingus' big bands are only marginally connected to, say, Ellington's, because there is always a feeling of suspense from the framework being stretched by the current improvisers.
This is perfectly exemplified by The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, possibly Mingus' crowning achievement in large-scale composition. The motifs return and intermingle like characters, an effect Mingus deliberately worked in, judging by the titles of the movements, yet each phrase is expanded upon by jazz musicians in top form. Thus, the melody is used as a springboard (the fundamental principle of jazz), and Mingus' arrangements form the chordal structure, as well as an undeniably cool atmosphere. Though highly experimental, Mingus' work is just as listenable, and truly must be heard.


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