The back story behind this concert CD is that, in September 1965, Charles Mingus performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. He had done so triumphantly well the year before, however, Mingus' 1965 set was inexplicably cut short at a half-hour (Mingus himself claims 20 minutes) and so the material he had planned for the event, much of it newly composed, was instead unreeled at UCLA a week later. Mingus later pressed a couple hundred copies of the performance into a self-released two-LP set, but the master tape was hence destroyed and the album basically forgotten until its release on CD by Mingus' widow Sue in 2006. Fans of the musically peripatetic Mingus will marvel when they partake of this intimate "lost" music; despite its often unfinished, raw quality, it's powerful stuff -- at least when it's not falling apart for all to hear. On this rare document -- a complete Mingus concert, including dialogue, rough spots, harangues, flubs and all -- Mingus leads an octet, six of whom (Hobart Dotson, Lonnie Hillyer, Jimmy Owens, Charles McPherson, Julius Watkins, and the mighty tuba man Howard Johnson) are horn players; Mingus, of course, alternates between piano and bass, and the scorching Dannie Richmond is on drums. At its best, when all eight cylinders are fired up (most of those moments occur on disc two, particularly on "The Arts of Tatum and Freddy Webster" and "Don't Be Afraid, the Clown's Afraid Too"), this is prime Mingus. But it's no wonder that Mingus called some of his less formal gigs, such as this one, workshops, because much of the music captured here is of a work-in-progress nature. The band plays it loose -- sometimes too loose for its leader's taste -- resulting, at one point during the first disc, after a couple of misfires at the start of "Once Upon a Time, There Was a Holding Corporation Called Old America" -- in Mingus actually sending some of the musicians temporarily packing while he and the remaining crew continue as a quartet. When that foursome finds its groove on "Ode to Bird and Dizzy," for example, the jams are so inventive and steaming as to make one wonder why Mingus didn't just tell the others to take the rest of the day off and stick with the small band. But when they all reconvene for the third try of the previously aborted "Once Upon..." it's as if nothing had gone wrong -- the band is in sync and working extra hard to pull off the complex piece. There are some humorous moments here ("Muskrat Ramble"), and some serious ones too: the spoken word intro to the album-closing "Don't Let It Happen Here" is a familiar discourse on the effects of apathy. At UCLA 1965 (its official title is actually "Music Written for Monterey, 1965 Not Heard...Played Live in Its Entirety at UCLA") won't go down on the must-have Mingus list, but as an adjunct to Mingus' lengthy discography, it's a fascinating and sometimes brilliant entry.
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AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2