In conjunction with the release of Ken Burns' ten-part, 19-hour epic PBS documentary Jazz, Columbia issued 22 single-disc compilations devoted to jazz's most significant artists, as well as a five-disc historical summary. Since the individual compilations attempt to present balanced overviews of each artist's career, tracks from multiple labels have thankfully been licensed where appropriate. Opening with the driving "Haitian Fight Song" (which some listeners may be surprised to recognize, thanks to its inclusion in a Volkswagen ad), this volume is spread reasonably well over Charles Mingus' career, including at least one selection from nearly all of Mingus' most classic albums. Given the constraints of a single disc, the compilation does a surprisingly good job of showcasing not only Mingus' rich eclecticism (the flamenco-tinged "Ysabel's Table Dance," the gospel jubilation of "Better Git It in Your Soul," the elegiac Lester Young tribute "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," a cover of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo"), but also his burning social conscience ("Fables of Faubus," which mocked the segregationist Arkansas governor's odd gait) and his absurdist sense of humor ("Eat That Chicken" and "The Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers"). Pretty much all of the albums from which these selections are taken should be heard in their entirety, but Ken Burns Jazz is an excellent introduction to some of Mingus' signature pieces, and will almost certainly whet listeners' appetites for more.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Huey