First is the playful spirit with which leader and composer Mingus and his top-notch band tackle the often-knotty music. He's in fine form on the bass fiddle, too, sounding spry and limber on a solo rendition of "Sophisticated Lady."
Second is the fact that Mingus generously allows his players extended solo showcases, including the unaccompanied piano piece "ATFW You" on which Jaki Byard channels Art Tatum and Fats Waller, combining ragtime and a modern sensibility.
Perhaps most important, this date came only three months before the daring genius Dolphy (who followed it with a European tour with this band) died at 36. Dolphy plays alto sax, bass clarinet and flute, and throughout the concert sounds like a man whose soul is on fire, displaying his heralded ability to seamlessly balance abstract free-jazz explorations with clear-headed chord improvisation.
Those looking for improv revelations will likely want to turn to the two half-hour pieces--the dark contours of "Fables of Faubus" on Disc 1, and the amazing "Meditations" on Disc 2. But here also are standards such as "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," "Jitterbug Waltz" and "Take the 'A' Train," during which the players run down the melodies in almost-quaint fashion before taking off on wondrous flights. Robust and thrilling, this album could be described as avant-garde swing.