Easy album to review: fan-dangling-tastic a-side; solid b-side (whose main criticism is that we’ve heard it before and heard it better). And each song moves through each of Mingus’s moods: the poppier “Remember Rockefeller at Attica” (featuring a theme headier than you know what), the ambitious “Sue’s Changes,” the bluesy “Devil’s Blues,” the Duke Ellington ballad “Duke Ellington’s Sounds of Love.”
The main attraction here is “Sue’s Changes,” which, and I know this is a bit weird, reminded me of the Simpsons clip of Homer’s life covered in two minutes because of how the band convey every single possible mood that Charles Mingus’ wife Sue has ever experienced. After its contemplative intro, Walrath (the newest addition to Mingus’ band) and Adams shift gears into a positively happy section (starting at the 2:27 mark) with so much counterpoint to sink your teeth in before being torn to shreds and leaving Don Pullen in the spotlight. And Don Pullen, like previous Mingus pianist Jaki Byard, steals the show not just here but on the album as a whole; his playing is at-once accessible and chaotic; check out the chords he plays starting at the 7:13 mark, where it sounds like he’s slamming the entire length of his elbow to imitate a tumble to hell. Afterwards, George Adams takes center-stage with a much calmer, warmer tone, before the entire band comes back in and Adams is forced to dual against Pullen as if someone said to the other that they weren’t avant-garde enough. Afterwards, the main theme comes back so everyone can take a moment to breathe before charging head-first into a climax that makes everything that came before it inert. It’s fucking aces, in less words – it’s the result of several talented musicians with a talented composer who successfully manages to push them beyond the realm of their or his own talents.
So yeah, when Charles Mingus says that this (and its sequel) are “among the best records I’ve made” in the liner notes, it isn’t an advertisement or an artist’s baffling statement about their own work – it’s the truth. Might be in the bottom of his top 10.