The titanic bassist/composer's final sessions as an instrumentalist are included here, recorded two weeks before he was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, in November 1977. I'm elated to report that while his dexterity may be off a smidgen, the penetrating tone and agile rhythmic conceptions that help comprise the genius of Mingus are much in evidence.
The music is more kaleidoscopic and less tightly focused than his vintage, signature material, from the horn voicings to drummer Danny Richmond's typically joyous gambols. Part of that is because Mingus comes full circle, playing with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, who'd hired him for his orchestra 30 years earlier. Hamp is featured on the lyrical, Ellington-esque tribute to Mingus's daughter, “Caroline Keikkie Mingus,” with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan jumping on the other side of the tonal spectrum with the weight of thick, red wine. “Slop” takes a marching band fanfare into a percolating blues, studded with sharp, pungent horn slices from trumpeters Jack Walrath and Woody Shaw, plus Ricky Ford on tenor, doing dabs of “Better Git Hit in Your Soul” along the way while Mingus cheers and chortles them on.
The lone cover, “It Might As Well Be Spring,” canters forth, favoring infatuation over wistful poses, as if Mingus would eat rather than smell the flowers. As a composer and bandleader, he never lost his fire, and the dancing flames were full of color.