The modern jazz giant Charles Mingus earned scant mention in Ken Burns's lengthy but misshapen PBS documentary about the music, so newcomers in thrall to Burns's view may not grasp Mingus's enormous reach and influence. For thirty years he was a powerful bassist, a daring, big-scale composer and a philosopher without peer in the jazz world. His blues-based music was both passionate and profoundly forward-looking, and it was tinged with the madness that plagued Mingus all his adult life. It's hard to imagine a more fitting or well-chosen introduction to the man than The Very Best of Charles Mingus, a new Rhino compilation of eleven tracks (representing five Atlantic albums) released between 1956 and 1964. Arguably, this was Mingus's most fertile period (he died of Lou Gehrig's disease in 1979), and these classics -- "Pithecanththropus Erectus," "Tonight at Noon" and "Haitian Fight Song," among others -- remain thrilling essentials for anyone seeking to understand the tides and mysteries of post-World War II jazz.
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