Mingus Dynasty

At the Bottom Line

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At the Bottom Line Review

by Don Snowden

This is Mingus Dynasty live the week before Chair in the Sky came out, complete with relatively rare sightings (John Handy and Jimmy Knepper back in the Mingus fold and Ted Curson) and Charlie Haden on bass. It also has stage patter hard to imagine at any concert by a living Charles Mingus: "We have played before a lot of audiences before, too, but none of them come up to you, ladies and gentlemen, I'm telling you. We should applaud yoooooouuuuu!" Oh, please.

The sleeve photos of At the Bottom Line are old ones of Mingus, not the group, and it also sounds like it could be a bootleg or board tape no one bothered to mix. The instruments are all at roughly the same level, so you can hear everyone fine (but where's Curson?), only there's no color or shading, and it falls prey to the note clutter that can happen in music as involved as Mingus'. "Boogie Stop" (you fill in the Shuffle) suffers some from that, with Handy weak in his upper register harmonics, but George Adams comes through with a very strong solo and "Chair in the Sky" is a fairly nice ballad despite a ragged ending.

"Mr. Jelly Roll" fades in on an excellent Knepper solo with Dannie Richmond chattering away in uptempo mode before a really fine New Orleans-cum-Dixieland theme ending (Any trace of Curson? Somewhere in the ensemble passages, maybe?). The melodic change-of-paces in "Sue's Changes" are a bit rushed (and there's Curson's trumpet back there, playing off Adams' tenor whinnying) before it goes quiet to let Handy spin enchanting melodic lines. Hugh Lawson, whose piano gets a disproportionate share of solo space on the disc, takes over and then it mysteriously fades out on a double-time lick and...something's missing here. These are great musicians, but the music isn't really happening. Haden seems out of his element -- the energy doesn't let him get to his strengths -- and he never clicks with Richmond to goose the soloists. The whole affair is pretty disjointed and random, with tracks fading out or fading in, no real sense of flow developing, and that non-mix. Sounds like it was a good, but not that great, night at the Bottom Line -- unless you're partial to these particular players, there are plenty of better discs by post-mortem Mingus music ensembles.

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