Black Saint Mingus

It is not unusual for my wife to pass comment on the music I listen to as she passes my study. “oh I like that, who is it?” means that she really is liking what she hears. “That’s interesting”, means that she might like some aspect of what she is hearing but overall is not really sure. “They seem to be taking an awful long time in tuning up!” means that she really does not like what she is hearing and wishes I had my headphones on. So what, I wonder, would she make of Black Saint and the Lady Sinner released in 1963 on the Impulse label?

The first thing to say about this album is that it is not one that you have on in the background, it need to be listened to rather than just heard.
Black Saint and the Lady Sinner is a jazz suite comprising of six parts played by an eleven piece band. Each part is written for a a sometimes unspecified number of dancers and has a subtitle: for example, Track A – Solo Dancer [Stop! Look! And Listen, Sinner Jim Whitney!]. Mode D – Trio And Group Dancers [Stop! Look!And Sing Songs Of Revolutions!].

Mingus wrote the suite as a dance piece and Impulse altered its label slogan to read “Ethnic Folk-Dance Music”. For me, the sense of this being written for dance came on Track B – Duet or Solo Dancers. The piece starts with the piano of Jaki Byard and then just grows and grows and would not be out of place in a contemporary dance setting of today.

This album has received much critical acclaim and rightly so.

Richard Cook and Brian Morton, writers of The Penguin Guide to Jazz, awarded the album a “Crown” token, the publication’s highest accolade, in addition to the highest four-star rating.

Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008) [1992]. The Penguin Guide to Jazz (8th ed.

Steve Huey of AllMusic awards The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady five stars out of five and describes the album as “one of the greatest achievements in orchestration by any composer in jazz history.”

Huey, Steve. “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady – Charles Mingus”. AllMusic.

In other reviews of this album much is made of the playing of alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano’s solos and as good as they are this really is an ensemble work with each player contributing to the overall sound of the album – I particularly like the use of guitarist Jay Berliner and the flutes of Dick Hafer and Jerome Richardson.

In the liner notes on the 2011 release of Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (it is released along with Mingus x5 as a two on one CD) Charles Mingus writes, “I feel no need to explain any further the music herewith other than to say throw all other records of mine away except maybe one other.” Not something I would be prepared to do but I do acknowledge that Black Saint And The Sinner Lady is an album of classic jazz dance music that will hold its value for as long as there are those prepared to put in the effort to sit and listen to this majestic performance – just be prepared to put on your headphones, your partner may not feel the same.

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