Friday, 16 March 2018
Charles Mingus - The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (1963)
Each track title is basically a dance notation, as this album was written as a ballet of sorts, if never performed as such - Solo Dancer, Duet Solo Dancers, Group Dancers etc - and the lengthy subtitles are where the clues are to Mingus' intentions lay for what he was expressing in the music. So the album opens with, to give it its full title, Track A - Solo Dancer: Stop! Look ! And Listen, Sinner Jim Whitey! (or is it Whitney? spellings vary across different pressings). In this track, as Mingus' psychotherapist Dr Edmund Pollock (yup, he was asked to review the music) notes in the liner, Charlie Mariano's alto sax solo acts as "a voice calling to others and saying "I am alone, please, please join me!" as the orchestral themes swirl around it.
There's a lot going on here, then, but this album shouldn't necessarily be regarded as 'difficult Mingus' - it's really not. There's achingly gorgeous melody and harmony everywhere, repeated themes, and great grooves. Only the side-long track that contains parts D through F takes a few goes to properly navigate, but it's a stunning achievement in orchestral jazz that's hugely satisfying once you get used to it. Little interludes are provided for things like Mingus' piano, and Jay Berliner (who I only knew from Astral Weeks before I heard this album) playing bits of Spanish guitar, to evoke "the period of the Spanish Inquisition, and El Greco's mood of oppressive poverty and death". Yes, there's weighty themes here, much of it Mingus' reflection of the Black American experience, but there's much joy too. To finish, and to sum up the album really, here's the full title of the final section: Of Love, Pain, and Promised Revolt, Then Farewell, My Beloved, 'Til It's Freedom Day.