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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Eagle Vision EREDV 63




1. Main Score: Part One
2. Percussion Discussion
3. Main Score: Part Two
4. Started Melody
5. The Soul
6. Untitled Ballad
7. Moods In Mambo
8. Self Portrait: The Chill Of Death
9. O.P. - Oscar Pettiford
10. Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon
11. Monk, Bunk And Vice Versa
12. Peggy’s Blue Skylight
13. Wolverine Blues
14. The Children’s Hour Of Dream
15. Freedom
16. Interlude (The Underdog Rising)
17. Better Git It In Your Soul
18. Noon Night
19. Main Score Reprise
Gunther Schuller - Conductor
Randy Brecker, Wynton Marsalis, Lew Soloff, Jack Walrath, Joe Wilder, Snooky Young - Trumpets
Eddie Bert, Sam Burtis, Paul Faulise, Urbie Green, David Taylor, Britt Woodman - Trombones
Don Butterfield - Tuba
John Handy, Jerome Richardson, Bobby Watson - Alto saxes
George Adams, Phil Bodner - Tenor saxes
Gary Smulyan, Roger Rosenberg - Baritone saxes
Dale Kleps - Contrabass clarinet
Michael Rabinowitz - Bassoon
Sir Roland Hanna, John Hicks - Piano
Reggie Johnson, Edwin Schuller - Bass
John Abercrombie - Guitar
Karl Berger - Vibraphone
Victor Lewis - Drums
Daniel Druckman - Percussion  


Charles Mingus led a chaotic life and you might describe his Epitaph with the same adjective. Parts of it were premiered at the notoriously disorganised 1962 Town Hall Concert in New York, which was supposed to be a public rehearsal but was advertised as a concert. The complete work was only pieced together after Mingus's death, and this DVD is a film of the premiere performance of the work,  which lasts more than two hours. It was performed in 1989 at New York's Lincoln Center.

As you can see from the personnel listings, a massive all-star cast was assembled, although some of the 30 musicians were obviously struggling to sight-read the orchestral parts, and the results sometimes verge on chaos. The chaos might seem appropriate for the work of a composer whose music often appeared to be struggling towards anarchy. At any rate, the result is a mishmash of material which barely holds together as an integrated composition, being written at various times in Mingus's life and assembled from  about 20 manuscripts (many of them virtually illegible) found while an attempt was being made to catalogue all the composer's writings.

Nevertheless, every movement has the Mingus hallmarks of irrepressible energy and unusual harmony. When the music starts, it certainly sounds discordant (with some hectic noises from alto sax and double bass), but it gradually settles down to something more melodious - perhaps because the listener becomes acclimatised to the Mingus sound. The whole work is difficult to describe, as it passes through so many different sections and moods. This DVD needs repeated viewings to be able to come to terms with the music's many twists and turns: one viewing is hardly enough to plumb its complexities.

One of the most user-friendly sections is The Soul, which is melodiously soulful rather than abrasive. And those critics who run down Wynton Marsalis should witness his gutsy trumpet solo in the passage mysteriously called Ballad (In Other Words, I am Three). This is the title in the playlist, although a sub-title on the film calls it merely Untitled Ballad. O. S. (Oscar Pettiford) starts with the same tune as The Tender Trap (!) but soon turns into a discordant riff which peters out in John Hicks's piano solo. A sudden gap after this suggests a clumsy tape-edit - or was this where the interval came?

Some of the later pieces are more easily approachable because they are Mingus favourites like Peggy's Blue Skylight and Better Git It in Your Soul. The latter is a real crowd-pleaser, with George Adams (I think) going berserk on tenor sax. There is also a sidelong take on the old trad tune Wolverine Blues. Incidentally, it would have been useful if the DVD included captions identifying the soloists, as they are not all instantly recognisable.

It is valuable to have available what the commentator describes as "the longest and largest work ever composed for jazz orchestra" - if only for Mingus enthusiasts to study and enjoy. Those who are unfamiliar with Mingus's work may find it harder to swallow, especially as its seems such a heterogeneous work.

Tony Augarde


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