This 2-CD set compiles all of the music recorded by the Charles Mingus Quintet with Max Roach as the guest star during a fruitful and extended evening in 1955. Most but not all of the material appeared on the LPs "Mingus at the Bohemia" (Debut Records DEB-123) and "The Charles Mingus Quintet Plus Max Roach" (Fantasy 6009), while the rest were issued on different compilations.
The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is one of the greatest achievements in orchestration by any composer in jazz history. Charles Mingus consciously designed the six-part ballet as his magnum opus, and – implied in his famous inclusion of liner notes by his psychologist – it's as much an examination of his own tortured psyche as it is a conceptual piece about love and struggle. It veers between so many emotions that it defies easy encapsulation; for that matter, it can be difficult just to assimilate in the first place. Yet the work soon reveals itself as a masterpiece of rich, multi-layered texture and swirling tonal colors, manipulated with a painter's attention to detail. There are a few stylistic reference points – Ellington, the contemporary avant-garde, several flamenco guitar breaks – but the totality is quite unlike what came before it. Mingus relies heavily on the timbral contrasts between expressively vocal-like muted brass, a rumbling mass of low voices (including tuba and baritone sax), and achingly lyrical upper woodwinds, highlighted by altoist Charlie Mariano.
Charles Mingus' debut for Columbia, Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist's talents and probably the best reference point for beginners. While there's also a strong case for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady as his best work overall, it lacks Ah Um's immediate accessibility and brilliantly sculpted individual tunes. Mingus' compositions and arrangements were always extremely focused, assimilating individual spontaneity into a firm consistency of mood, and that approach reaches an ultra-tight zenith on Mingus Ah Um.
In 1960 bassist Charles Mingus helped to organize an alternative Newport Jazz Festival in protest of Newport's conservative and increasingly commercial booking policy. The music on this LP (which has been reissued on CD) features some of the musicians who participated in Mingus's worthy if short-lived venture. Trumpeter Roy Eldridge performs three numbers with pianist Tommy Flanagan, Mingus and drummer Jo Jones; of greatest interest is "Mysterious Blues" for it adds trombonist Jimmy Knepper and the unique altoist Eric Dolphy successfully to the group. The other selections match up drummers Max Roach and Jo Jones with Roach's quintet (featuring trumpeter Booker Little) on "Cliff Walk" and feature singer Abbey Lincoln on "Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do."