Charles Mingus - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
Sep 14, 2020
The History of the Albums – n° 222

Have you ever imagined what paradise looks like, or at least the place that could be called ideal? To be honest I've asked myself this question hundreds of times, always making up different scenarios. And then one fine day, at the dawn of autumn, by dint of scratching my head to think, which by the way accelerated my baldness, I found the answer. What if The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady were the set, and the orchestra led by Charles Mingus were the actors. There will be no jazz lover who will contradict me, so if you've never visited paradise, it's high time you thought about it. We are in July 1963 when a jazz record, as it comes out every week, appears in the bins of the stores. However, this is not like the other times, it was actually an unusual day. So yes, it was already not so insignificant because the reputation and fame of the name Mingus was making ink and saliva rain down on the listeners, but it is important to point out that despite his legend, Mingus was not the popular star of the jazz sphere either. It is with time that we all definitively understood that he was one of the monuments unlike Davis or Coltrane who had already acquired their reputations at that time. So nothing was written in advance.

However, The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady was suddenly, after its release, an earthquake of such intense magnitude that the whole jazz sphere (and beyond) was shaken and upset forever. Among the holy trinity of jazz albums, we finally found the 2nd relic, which follows Kind Of Blues (Miles Davis - 1959), 2 years before reaching the last piece of the puzzle A Love Supreme (John Coltrane - 1965). Beyond everyone's opinion and his own subjectivity, the Holy Trinity generally illustrates the top jazz albums that we find almost systematically when we consult any jazz listener. The reputation of this album is so impressive, that just thinking about and writing this review was an agonizing moment for me. It's that very moment when you're faced with something so charismatic that you're afraid you won't do enough credit for it. Luckily this work is so wonderful that you end up taking the plunge.

So let's put things in context. If I had to make a rather quick but concise synthesis of Mingus, I would say first of all that he is simply one of the greatest composers in the history of music of any genre and one of the best double bassists at the same time. Although it took a long time for everyone to realize his importance, sometimes underestimated as a Thelonious Monk, Mingus has always been such an avant-garde genius that he had already anticipated Post-Bop as early as 1955 when Hard bop (his ancestor) hadn't even yet established its dominance over other jazz styles. Beyond all that he offered to jazz, be it his compositions, his innovations, his techniques and his masterful contributions, Mingus was probably one of the first artists to take the album format seriously, developing the first concept albums. And these are some very important things. From Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956) to more specifically The Clown (1957), Charles Mingus very often brought this conceptual distinction to his albums, which gives much more particularity to his discography. That's why when he released The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady, we can say that not only did he reach his peak, making it the most successful and brilliant album of his career, but he also offered one of the most conceptual and innovative albums that jazz (and more) has known. In terms of the context of the time, Charle Mingus was going through a period in his career where everything was working very well, a very inspired period that can be heard from Minugs Ah Um (1959) to Mingus Mingus etc... (1964). It can clearly be considered his best period. It can be explained in particular by the fact that he was able to offer his brightest ideas at a time when modern jazz was focusing on avant-garde and post-bop, of which he was rightly "favored" because he already had years of anticipation on this subject.

When Mingus and his team returned to the studio on January 20, 1963 for the only recording session of The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady, he still had an ambitious concept in mind. Although it has never been so ambitious. Articulated around a Third Stream and Avant-Garde structure, The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady is an album that is actually a long and experimental composition, cut into several tracks in the form of a ballet. Unless I am mistaken, it seems to me that it is a first in the world of jazz and outside of classical music. Basically, if we take away the concept of the album, it's not the first time that Mingus explores Third Stream territories. As a reminder, it is a style that combines Jazz and defined European Classical Music and whose merit is very often attributed to the musician and composer Gunther Schuller. However he is not the only precursor of this current, we also find Stan Kenton, Moondog, Bill Evans and of course Mingus with his projects Jazzical Moods (1955). Moreover I will quote Stan Kenton and Moondog as the first influences of The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady, as much on Third Steam, experimentation, the avant-garde side or the experimental big band. Because yes indeed, The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady is interpreted by an orchestra of 11 musicians, reflecting both the European culture of classical music and the modern big band born in the 50s which was opposed to the traditional swing. We thus find to support Mingus that musicians who at the time was not known, led by the brilliant arranger Hammer.

Now that you know all about the artistic and conceptual vision of this masterpiece, it's time to focus on the musical aspect and its content. First of all I would like to point out that as in any high level classic, you very quickly understand when you listen to it that it has something completely both magnificent and crazy, as if you were whispering in your ear: "yes, it's going to be unforgettable". There is no turning back. Once you've listened to The Black Sinner and The Sinner Lady, you're not necessarily aware of it, but you're changed forever. To know the main reasons, it's important to remember again that Mingus had already experimented in a different way with several ingredients, including the Third Steam, the Flamenco sounds on Tijuana Moods and the big bands on Mingus Dynasty which included some of the musicians present here as well. It can be said that musically The Black Sinner and The Sinner Lady is not so innovative if we rely only on "style" innovations. On the contrary, Mingus was able to create a unique and more than perfect work that retraces under a concept for the first time a lot of ingredients that he had already tried to cook before. It is rather this moment where the alchemy is so incredible that it will never be equalled. If Mingus Ah Um was his pinnacle of post-bop/hard bop, The Black Sinner and The Sinner Lady is the pinnacle of avant-garde jazz.

Lending itself totally to his concept, the idea of ballet could only work well with Mingus. In fact, when one analyzes the similarities, everything becomes clear. Mingus is one of the jazzmen and composers who manages to deliver the most emotions through his music (and without talking). Mingus' art is felt both psychologically and physically. He loves to immerse himself in the universe and culture he explores, always seeking to make its content very theatrical, lively and particularly real. The conceptual idea of a ballet is that it is a story, often dramatic with an emphasis on emotions, through music and dance. We find all these elements and all its metaphors in The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady. It's never easy to listen and understand the works of Mingus at first, this one is no exception, it's even pushed to its paroxysm. He always has this tortured and passionate side that confront and sometimes embrace each other for a few moments. There are its multiple details, this technique and this infinite richness which even if you dig you never have the occasion to arrive at the end. A godsend for listeners who are looking for true love. To introduce the idea of an ideal and paradisiacal place to illustrate and qualify this work, it becomes almost obligatory, has such points it is deserved. The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady is one of the most fascinating, romantic and brilliant works an artist has ever produced, because it simply contains all the elements of a perfect work. The concept is brilliant, original and clearly mastered, you are constantly surprised without ever losing track, and the content is so breathtaking that you will spend your time praying to God that it never ends
Doublez's Tags
Sep 14, 2020
love this album and the review on it, great job!
Sep 14, 2020
excellente review, très detaillée et fournie en informations, pour un indéniable chef d'oeuvre du 20eme siècle. 👏 le seul petit bémol est que ce ne soit pas un 100 ;-)
Sep 14, 2020
Damn, I don't think DoubleZ will ever give a 100 (or at least not anytime soon)
Sep 14, 2020
Thank you very [email protected], @WhatTheFunk, @TheTourist90! Its a real pleasure! Hehehe, no 100 yet, I think there will only be one: Abbey Road
Sep 14, 2020
@DoubleZ Oooooo, I'm excited for that review!
Liked By
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Charles Mingus - Blues & Roots
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Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um
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Charles Mingus - The Clown
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