Mingus - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963), 8/10

Almost inarguably Mingus’ most important recording, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady blends jazz and classical music in a completely novel fashion, while integrating vivid theatrics, African and Spanish styles and sounds, and very creative composition techniques. The narrative arc of the album, consisting of six movements of ballet, leans into its big band feel but Mingus had a very particular and individual sound at this point in his career that was never duplicated. The horns resemble human voices at many points throughout, giving the music a personal and impressively story-rich presentation considering its lack of vocals. The album, as an experience, has an immediately clear appeal, reaching beyond the contemporary confines of jazz to create something entirely new and boundary-pushing while appearing completely artistically unfettered and exuding freedom. Still, many of these passages and their meaning take time to consume and appreciate, growing more impressive and meaningful with context, both historically and musically in an intrinsic way considering the music as subject. The instrumental mastery is clear, of course, and this is one of the tightest recordings Mingus released despite its extremely far-reaching ambitions. These ambitions reached beyond the music, as Mingus was known for his brave and necessary statements about race and politics, giving the album more significance and importance outside of the sphere of jazz music. The combination of trumpets, trombone, tuba, reeds, and the all-important and impressive rhythm section, including Mingus’ matured direction, assemble to perform a set of songs that are moving, yet satisfyingly challenging. The music only suffers from an extreme focus and a reliance on its own aesthetic particularity of theatrics to drive the music forward. Even this aspect is still largely successful, however, making it both a great feat and a hinderance depending on context. The music is grandiose and epic, superbly dense, and gratifyingly free in brief moments that give tracks like Track C a feeling of spiritual integrity and power while exemplifying a capturing, consistent musical progression. Its resurgence is warranted, not only due to its immediate appeal but equally for its successfully realized aspirations in music and worldly commentary. The first track opens with enough electricity to grab just about anyone before the second guides us into what can best be described as a sprawling back-and-forth of excitement and romance between its two dancers. Beyond these first two movements Mingus explores ground far beyond jazz, a term he was not happy with for clear reasons after listening to this record, and he ventured forth into exploring complex interplay yet stays grounded in infectious melodies, which come in succession one after the other. Even if there are arguably more capturing instances of creative music in jazz, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is hard to argue against as one of the very greatest big band efforts if not the best. The formation of the record itself is impressive, its story captivating, its passion palpable, and its execution masterful. Mingus set a new standard by taking advantage of the freedom granted him by Impulse and it resulted in one of the greatest efforts in jazz music and potentially in music altogether.