The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-1965 shows one of the giants of jazz, Charles Mingus, going down many different avenues in order to launch his own music into a brave new world. This live compilation, including some previously unreleased recordings, is perhaps more celebratory than revelatory. It could be argued that there is little cohesion among the tracks here but it plays up Mingus’ use of these live performances as exhibitions, live exercises for the musical training ground of his Jazz Workshop.
Mingus created the Workshop in an aggressive creative attempt at a conversational ensemble jazz style that encouraged simultaneous invention and improvisation. This conversation is evident throughout, but especially in the hilarious opening mimicry of ‘Themeless Blues’ or in the album’s wandering lead track and tribute to a recently deceased bandmate, ‘So Long Eric’. He hits all moods here: ‘Bird Preamble. finds Mingus deriding jazz’s so-called avant-garde; ‘Copa City Titty’ is a tightly-wound bop blast; ‘Peggy’s Blue Skylight’ is often tender and sweet; and ‘Cocktails For Two’ is half faithful tribute, half schmaltz. Mingus’ experiments in dissonant jazz composition are especially present in the unnerving and moving ‘A Lonely Day in Selma, Alabama/Freedom’. This civil rights anthem is cut with lines of spoken word poetry, and provides a glimpse into the creative struggle of an African American artist in the middle of the 20th century.
In A Nutshell: The “Angry Man of Jazz” remains cool and focused throughout this compilation, and his firm grip allows a glimpse into the transforming world of jazz.