Look for Charles Mingus, fronting a dazzling sextet, to climb the traditional-jazz chart this summer. No, the legendary bassist isn’t leading his group on a landmark tour as he did 43 years ago: Mingus, who would have been 85 this year, died in 1979. In fact, none of the members of the ensemble heard on “Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964” — set for release this week via Blue Note — are still alive.
But this powerful double disc, drawn from previously unreleased tapes, is likely to be the most talked-about jazz album of the year. It adds important detail to a key chapter in one of jazz’s most celebrated careers.
Spring 1964 was a championship season for Mingus, who performed a famous concert April 4 at New York’s Town Hall before a memorable tour of Europe and one monumental concert at Monterey. This sextet was perhaps the most acclaimed Mingus ensemble of all, featuring reedman Eric Dolphy, pianist Jaki Byard, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, trumpeter Johnny Coles and drummer Dannie Richmond.
On the “Cornell” discs, Mingus’ sextet makes music that is stylistically diverse (from Byard’s stride-piano forays to Jordan’s avant-leaning wails) and politically charged (an extended version of “Fables of Faubus” contains not just anti-segregation lyrics but flecks of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and Chopin’s funeral march). And though the price commanded by a double-disc set may be a bit prohibitive, these dead legends will likely achieve that other elusive goal: jazz that sells.