March 19, 2001
Tonight At Noon
Label M 495723
TONIGHT AT NOON is the most impressive record session that Charles Mingus never made.
That's because the LP — which was originally released by Atlantic in 1964 — was pieced together from tunes left off 1957's THE CLOWN and 1961's OH YEAH albums. Still, it's probably a tribute to the talents of both Mingus as a composer and his sidemen that the tunes recorded four years apart hang together so well.
Mingus did have an overwhelming point of view, nonetheless, as many of the stories about him would attest. Considering the bassist's most consistent assistant, drummer Dannie Richmond, and one of his most fluent interpreters, trombonist Jimmy Knepper, are present on all tracks, things are that much more cohesive.
The three 1961 tunes were recorded at a time when Mingus had temporarily abandoned the bass for the piano, so Doug Watkins, an original Jazz Messenger and stalwart hard bopper fills that role. He doesn't get the solo however. That's probably because the rest of the front line was filled out by a regular in the Mingus repertory company, tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin, and the wild card of multi-instrumentalist (pre Rahsaan) Roland Kirk. The 1957 sessions gave ample solo space to alto saxophonist Shafi Hadi, with the piano chair filled by the dependable, unspectacular Wade Legge, best-known as a Dizzy Gillespie sideman.
Everything Mingus recorded in that period was either a major or a minor masterpiece and the compositions here are no exception. The title tune is a variant of the more celebrated "Haitian Flight Song", with Hadi's burning saxophone lines aided and abetted by Mingus' bass ostinato, with some space given over to vocalized screams whose only connection to time telling would be a muezzin's cries. "Passions of a Woman Loved", Mingus' "dance contest" piece, which flits from tempo to tempo like The Nicholas Brothers on the dance floor, offers up another Hadi solo tour-de-force and even gives Legge some space. Mingus dons his Duke Ellington garb for "Invisible Lady" constructing a ballad showcase for Knepper, the way Ellington would have for "his" star trombonist Lawrence Brown.
The out of tempo "'Old' Blues for Walt's Torin" — a version of which was also recorded as "Pussy Cat Dues" — and "Peggy's Blue Skylight" are easily the most outside numbers on the date. The later showcases Kirk's tenor saxophone, with which he creates a solo as gutsy and heartfelt as anything turned out by other reedmen who stuck to one horn and a simpler conception. The former gives Kirk's three horns all the space they need so that it appears that an entire reed section has appeared in the studio. More importantly, it showed that Mingus never ventured too far into the future without playing up Jazz's blues and R&B roots. Incidentally the piano solos Mingus unveils here are strong, but much more conventional, rhythmically and harmonically, than his bass work.
All in all, this CD, like nearly everything Mingus recorded in his golden decade plus: 1955 to 1966, is another page in his book of masterpieces. Get it.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Tonight at Noon* 2. Invisible Lady+ 3. "Old" Blues for Walt's Torin 4. Peggy's Blue Skylight 5. Passions of a Woman Loved*
Personnel: Jimmy Knepper (trombone); Shafi Hadi* (alto saxophone); Booker Ervin^ (tenor saxophone); Roland Kirk^(tenor saxophone, manzello, stritch); Charles Mingus (piano) [tracks 2-4], (bass) [tracks 1, 5]; Wade Legge* (piano); Doug Watkins^ (bass); Dannie Richmond (drums)