Charles Mingus ‘Jazz in Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden’ 5LP/5CD (BBE/Strata/Sue Mingus Music) 5/5

Just when you thought there was no other unissued Mingus material out there, comes a wonderful and intimate set of live performances at an independent venue plus in-depth interviews from a local radio station in Detroit from 1973. The Strata Gallery 46 Selden was not just any old venue, but a multi-purpose one (that could also serve as art gallery, coffee shop, or recording space, to name but three practical vocations) that first opened its doors in July 1972, and by the time of Mingus’ arrival, one that was welcoming the top jazz musicians of the era including Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett, as well as cult names such as Tribe and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet (CJQ). What makes this package all the more authentic and personalised are the accompanying artifacts that range from an impressive pull out facsimile poster to original flyers and black and white photos of Mingus in live performance.

As to the music, which is a priceless and no holds barred document of a Mingus smaller ensemble from the early 1970s, it features a pared down quintet which enables the listener to appreciate the soloists more, and the brass in particular are given free rein to shine, with remastered sound quality that is, in general, excellent. Comprising Roy Brooks on drums, Don Pullen on piano and with the twin brass attack of trumpeter Joe Gardner and tenor saxophonist John Stubblefield, the music is at times fiery, as on a blistering interpretation of ‘Pithecanthropus Erectus’, yet elsewhere is tender and melodic, as on ‘The man who never sleeps’, which is the ideal vehicle to hear the gorgeous trumpet hues of Gardner, with supportive piano from Pullen. The lengthy versions are accompanied invariably by a brief spoken introduction by local Detroit broadcaster, Bud Spangler, who was himself a jazz drummer with the likes of Tribe and CJQ, but equally featured are some lengthy conversations with musicians, including fellow drummer Roy Brooks.

One wonders what other musical treasures are out there, but this groundbreaking endeavour to bring to the attention of a significantly wider public is to be applauded and is a cross-label enterprise that is surely the way forward for the future. Exemplary inner sleeve notes from ex-SNC editor and founder Paul Bradshaw, that provide the historical backdrop in an informative and entertaining manner, round off an immaculate overall package and most certainly one of the year’s most enjoyable surprises.

Tim Stenhouse