How does one define an emotion? Let’s narrow the field a little: how does one define an emotion in musical terms? Some might say with exceptional lyrical composition. Some may say with outstandingly technical instrumentation. Even more might state that the only true answer to this quandary is the question itself: you define emotion in music through sheer emotional willpower. Now then, allow me the pleasure of another question: which artists have reached such a plateau? Sure, you could mention the greatest, most legendary artists of each and every musical genre. No one will frown upon such an opinion, as it is as valid as any other. However, if I was asked this either of these questions, I would respond, essentially with the question itself for the former of the two; I would respond, however, with one artist primarily above all else for the latter question: Charles Mingus. Upon giving said response, I would cite Mingus’ 1963 masterpiece The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
Charles Mingus would be a man who many would consider to be a true artist. As 20th century musicians go, Mingus is widely considered to be among the greatest composers of his time. In addition to this, his triumphs as an orchestrator and musical technician catapult him into the upper echelons of, dare I say, legendary status? Yes, I do dare to say just that: Charles Mingus is a legend. There is no greater example of this than The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
. Written originally as a ballet, this album draws inspiration from everything (and everyone) from Duke Ellington
to Latin-based musical resources, creating a unique, new orchestral style that Mingus dubbed “ethnic folk-dance music." The overall work on the album is rich and multi-tiered, mostly due to Mingus’ sense of perfectionism, which led to the extensive use of studio overdubbing (the first time such a technique would be used on an album). The result is an engrossing, truly compelling harmonious experience, that seems to capture every spectrum of the human emotional palette; from joy, to excitement, to anger, and sadness.
The entire piece consists of a single six-part suite performed by an eleven-piece band. Each movement of every song overflows with a certain vibe that conveys exactly the point that it is intended to. Since a wide variety of instruments are featured on The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
, the sound meshes together with a certain “viscosity of virtuosity." Everything from guitar solos or brass solos to free-form jazz psychodrama, accentuate the ever-altering, and conceptual nuances of the album’s message. And what a message it is. While The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
is instrumental, it’s also one of the most well-perceived embodiments of music being able to speak without words. The perfection of this album can go without saying as well; meaning you need to listen.
So, specifically, what will you be listening to? The four songs on the album are (as previously mentioned) broken into eleven overall movements. Beginning with “Track A- Solo Dancer" and concluding with the final movement of “Mode D- Trio and Group Dancers" appropriately titled "Of Love, Pain, and Passioned Revolt, then Farewell, My Beloved, 'til It's Freedom Day," The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
shifts continuously through tempo changes and feeling changes as your mood may reflect whilst indulging within the album. It’s extremely difficult to put into words just how fantastic this record is. It’s simply that incredible.
While this review may seem concise (ridiculously so, at that), I hope you, dear reader, will sympathize with this humble reviewer’s point of view: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
is an experience. Therefore, no amount of words I could ever write will truly relate the perfection of said experience. I highly urge anyone who skims over this review to give this album a look. If you wish to hear the point where Charles Mingus finally transcended his original roots as a simple jazz bassist, and became something much more, then this is the record for you. However, if you simply wish to delve into some amazing music, you’ll still find yourself well-served with this album. I suppose this is what you might colloquially deign to be a “win/win" situation.