When it comes to characters in jazz, they don't come much more colorful than Charles Mingus. Volatile, passionate, and uncompromising in his genius, Mingus' music reflected his choleric personality in broad, bold strokes. Even if this eight-disc collection does not provide the full range of his best work, it offers a fine portrait of the man. The examination charts a course through some of the bassist and composer's most accomplished and varied releases, beginning with his early classics Mingus Dynasty and the much beloved Mingus Ah Um. From there things get wilder, first with the dizzying Tijuana-bender documented on Tijuana Moods and on to his first full-scale symphony, Let My Children Hear Music. Sprawled across two discs is the collection's closer, Epitaph, Mingus' unfinished masterpiece and, at 2 1/2 hours, as large a statement as Wagner ever conceived. All are essential recordings in the Mingus canon, and great (though perhaps a bit overwhelming) for those new to his music. For seasoned fans who likely have these releases on the shelf already, the collection offers few revelations. However, taken for what it is — a thrilling study of one of jazz's most vibrant figures — it's more than a worthy package.
★★★★ ½ (out of 5 stars)