Mingus fans should not hesitate to pick this up. It nicely captures the premier performance of this colossal work, live at Lincoln Center in 1989. A CD was released soon after the event, but apparently the DVD just came out in 2009. The audio quality of the DVD is very good, and the camera work is outstanding. The DVD makes it easier to follow the structure of this complex music, and you more fully experience the energy and passion of the musicians.
The nearly two hour composition consists of 18 movements or sections. Several of these are re-orchestrated, expanded versions of well-known Mingus songs. Others were conceived directly for a large 30 piece ensemble. The history of EPITAPH is not well-known, but it appears that Mingus worked on it intermittently for most of his career. Most of the score was intact, although Gunther Schuller--who ably conducts the orchestra--apparently had to piece together a few loose ends. Schuller's original, informative liner notes from the CD are included.
Overall, this is quintessential Mingus, with the remarkable gutsy sound, driving energy, and powerful punctuations you'd hope for and expect. Key soloists include Randy Brecker, Wynton Marsalis (trumpets), Bobby Watson, John Handy, George Adams (saxophones), Sir Roland Hanna and John Hicks (pianos). But, heck, all 30 of these talented players solo at various times. One 11 minute section includes nearly 100 little solos, providing "an ever changing kaleidoscope of instrumental color" (Schuller). Throughout most of the piece, everyone appears to be playing to a tight score (with limited improvisation), and the writing is ingenious, with ideas and sounds rarely heard in jazz.