The resounding final statement of a true American maverick.
Samuel Chell | Kenosha,, WI United States | 09/06/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Even if you disagree with Mingus' assessment of this as his greatest recording, the musical evidence is sufficiently compelling to make you respect the composer's judgment. Mingus was a larger-than-life figure and dreamer of Faustian proportions, though his projects frequently fell short of realizing their maker's designs. In some respects, he's remarkably similar to the filmmaking genius, Orson Welles (and not only in terms of artistic vision). After the controversy and commercial failure of "Citizen Kane," Welles was largely sentenced to pursuing his Promethean ambitions with self-financed films on shoe-string budgets that simply could not conceal their frequently ragged, unpolished production values.
Recent recordings like Mingus' UCLA and Cornell concerts often show much of the same disparity between the artist's lofty conceptions and inadequate resources for implementation of them (in terms of money, time, personnel, promotional agents, circulation channels). But with the help of arranger Sy Johnson, Mingus came closer than ever to realizing the "grand design" in "Let My Children Hear Music," which amounts to a literal and fitting "valedictory" by the composer-bassist-leader. Call the music portentous and pretentious: it IS. Romantics, dreamers, visionaries, idealists always ARE. And lest there be any doubt, the liner notes quoting Mingus on the project are practically a jeremiad on the state of art and culture in the late 20th century.
Like Welles, William Blake, Shelley, Pound and perhaps all under-appreciated or ignored geniuses, Mingus was a true "maverick" (quite unlike the Presidential candidate who claims the title because he disagreed with his commander-in-chief 10% of the time), distancing himself from liberal revolutionaries as much as conservative stand-patters. As his program notes make clear, Mingus wanted to liberate listeners by opening their ears not just to the music of the present but to the brilliant compositional structures of the past. He was at once "progressive" and "conservative," intensely committed to conserving the best music by insisting that it be heard amidst the frequent noise of the present.
"Let My Children Hear Music" is Mingus writ large (if that's possible), music that's more absorbing compositionally than some of the earlier recordings of these same works. If there's a deficiency to the music, it's ironically the comparative absence of the normally irrepressible Mingus himself. The program opens with a thrilling "Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife" that practically recalls Strauss's "Death and Transfiguration." Yet the impact of the piece is partially dependent on the listener's familiarity with previous, less polished and fully "orchestrated" versions of the composition. Soon, the textures of the program tend to overwhelm individual soloists and even Mingus. In terms of a final result doing justice by each of the personalities in the ensemble while representing in full the character of the leader, Mingus inarguably falls short of his hero, Ellington.
All the same, the textures and scale are in themselves a wonder, and the saxophones of the ageless James Moody and the noble (if wronged) soldier Bobby Jones are added "clinchers" to this fascinating, if not essential, recording. Looking at Amazon's current price for this item and factoring in a tax and postage-free transaction, I'd be surprised if you found many better values on Amazon. But don't take it for granted. Some of Ellington's best music is currently unavailable. In the "culture" of the present, as Mingus himself sensed, there are major obstacles to being heard. Why not pick up a boxful of these and hand them out to young people in exchange for a promise to give up some of the time devoted each day to the Xbox, iPhone, and Face Book. (I know--what to do about the problem of the suddenly obsolescent CD player?) As loud, omnipresent, and inescapable as the "medium" has become, Mingus was enough of a maverick to believe there's still a message that needs to be heard. Some of us are old-fashioned enough to agree with him."