Skip to main content

The best recent Jazz releases: Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker & Yannick Rieu

Never-before-heard genius from Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck and Chet Baker. Plus, the Yannick Rieu Generation Quartet from Canada
Charles Mingus

     Mingus. Just the sound of the name conjures up fantastical images of the tortured angry artist spewing out genius in all directions. His compositions, his shouted-out vocals, his bass-playing, his bands, his sound, his total oeuvre, only Monk and Miles can dredge up such mysterious ruminations. Now we have the three-disc Mingus: The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott’s (Resonance Records), dug up from the dust-bin of history for the first time by Jazz Detective/Archeologist Zev Feldman.
     The famed British jazz room Ronnie Scott’s has hosted many a legend. Over the course of two nights—August 14 and 15, 1972—the room positively crackled with the static electricity of a master in full grasp of his gargantuan powers. It has been whittled down to two and a half hours of revolutionary music for the early '70s. It was originally set for release on Columbia Records prior to the purge. (Early in ’73, the label dropped every jazz man except Miles.) The unheard tapes have been sitting in a warehouse ever since.
     Mingus, at the time, was riding high. His depression had lifted. His status as a crazy recluse was slowly being erased with a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, choreographer Alvin Ailey’s The Mingus Dances, his rather shocking Beneath The Underdog auto-biography and the release of his Let My Children Hear Music masterpiece. He found himself as a bigger star than ever.
     He must have been in a good mood.
     The sextet still had its two sax men—Bobby Jones on tenor and Charles McPherson on alto—but new keyboardist John Foster, new drummer Roy Brooks and a new trumpeter—a teenaged Jon Faddis—must’ve added pre-set stress. Some of the nine tracks are over 30 minutes. McPherson called it “organized chaos.” I call it the find of the year.

Chet Baker

     Jazz Detective Zev Feldman has been busy. Chet Baker Trio Live In Paris (Elemental Music) has been unearthed, dusted off and released for the first time in a gorgeous two-CD or 3-vinyl record package filled with prime ‘83/’84 Chet Baker, plus great reading/photography. It’s too bad he loved his heroin as much as he loved his music. But maybe his ravaged soul led to his artistry. (He died in ’88 at 58.) The “King of Cool” combined a hipper Sinatra vocally with an unerring sense of laid-back but dramatic trumpet flairs that could “rip your heart out” according to ‘70s sideman Richie Beirach who remembers “women and gay guys…openly weeping.” The sound is sterling, intimate, unique—no drums!—in its trumpet, bass, piano configuration. Six of the nine songs are over 14 minutes. This is mesmerizing stuff.


Brubeck Live From Vienna_Front Cover (1)

     Live From Vienna 1967 (MVD Entertainment Group), by the Dave Brubeck Trio, proves the show must go on. Something happened to sax man Paul Desmond in Germany after a gig. He went out with an old friend on the night of November 10 in Hamburg and disappeared, not showing up at the airport or the club in Vienna. Forced to literally improvise, pianist Brubeck, bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello were troopers, delivering this magnificent set of WC Handy (“St. Louis Blues”), Steven Foster (“Swanee River”), Billy Strayhorn (“Take The A-Train”), Walt Disney (“Someday My Prince Will Come” from the 1937 cartoon Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), 19th Century Spanish folk song “La Paloma Azul” and Brubeck’s own ”One Moment Worth Years.” As his son Chris Brubeck says, “he, Gene and Joe got thrown a curve ball and knocked it out of the park!”


Yannick Rieu

     Some truly great jazz has been coming out of Canada for years now, not the least of which is the Yannick Rieu Generation Quartet’s Qui Qu’en Grogne (Yari Productions). With two generations of players on eight Rieu originals evoking the classic sax/piano/bass/drums tradition, sax man Rieu--active since 1988--takes what could have been an exercise in by-the-numbers tribute-love to adventurously stretch it via futuristic arrangements that show verve, daring, acrobatic drama and a penchant for creating new out of old.