Release Date: 1963
Mingus’s The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is a masterwork of orchestral/experimental jazz.
From the very first moments of The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady you know you’re in for something different, and not just for Mingus. Immediately, the eleven-piece band provides a varied and unusual orchestral arrangement. Along with the atypical instrumentation, mild dissonance is another element you’ll find first grabbing your attention here.
The album consists of a single continuous composition — partially written as a ballet — divided into four tracks and six movements. It is an incredibly complex work: part 20th-century contemporary classical, part the-type-of-jazz-you’d-expect of Mingus, plus a sprinkling of dark bluesiness, rapid rhythm changes, wild swings in dynamics, and exciting changes in instrumentation between tracks. Just reference the flute in “Track C-Group Dancers”. A sound which I dare say precedes the stylistic impulses of several ’70s Prog Rock bands. Then, in the same track, there’s even some Spanish guitar in there for good measure! It’s music that tells a story through music, and music alone.
This album excites and delights the senses, hitting all the right emotional notes, while hitting many “wrong” physical ones, delicately riding the line between discomfort and elation. The manner in which later tracks reference earlier movements is nothing short of brilliant as well. It’s a fantastic journey all the way through.
A big part of me feels this is jazz for those who lean towards more experimental and avant-garde forms of music in general, rather than jazz. I think this in part due to the fact that this is one of the first jazz albums I fell in love with. Serious music fans of every persuasion should find much to like here.
Highlights: There’s nothing to skip here. The Spanish guitar on “Track C-Group Dancers” is one of the more unexpected moments.