Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Charles Mingus - Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus
(another album the Ripple crew loved so much, it had to be reviewed twice. you can read the earlier review here)
Some musical minds are beyond description. Charles Mingus had one of them. A jazz musician (a pioneer in double bass technique), a composer, a bandleader and a civil rights activist with a truly American story. He recorded from at least 1945 through 1977 which was two years before he died of ALS. He appears on over 100 recordings. His own music tends to fuse gospel, smooth and free jazz and the big band sound. The result is an infectious instrumental hard bop.
One of my favorite Mingus masterpieces is all about him - Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus. Here was Charles Mingus near the crossroads and at the top.
Mingus was forty-nine years old at the time he released Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus. Mingus. It was 1963. Here was a man born in Nogales, Arizona, raised in Watts in Los Angeles in the 1920’s, who by the early 1930’s was studying bass with the principal bassist of the New York Philharmonic. By 1943 he was touring with the Louis Armstrong Band. The man was hot. So hot that due to his temper Duke Ellington personally fired him after an onstage fight with Juan Tizol, the Duke Ellington Band’s trombonist.
By the 1950’s Mingus was recording with the “creme de la creme” of modern jazz - Red Norvo, Tal Farlow. Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, . . . He co-founded Debut Records with jazz drummer Max Roach and formed his own hard bop jazz quintet. He also began a rotating group of musicians who played and experimented together known as The Jazz Workshop.
By 1963 Mingus was ramping up to a frenzy of creation. He released four albums in 1962, four in 1963 and twelve in 1964. This was a perilous time in American History. The country was in a “police action” in Vietnam and faced a showdown over annihilation with Russia during the Cuban Missile Crisis Martin Luther King marched on Washington and, just before Thanksgiving 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
It is on Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus that the Charles Mingus of the 1960’s can be put in proper perspective. The album consists of eight tracks. A theme develops throughout the recording. This is music with a purpose.
The album begins with the soulful deep bass strains of “II B.S.” and is followed with a dissonant wail on “I X Love,” There is syncopation and sorrow within the track “Celia,” Even Mingus’s classic bass rendition of Duke Ellington’s and Boony Bigard’s “Mood Indigo” manages to release the soul and elevate the spirit. Nowhere is that ability of Mingus’s music more evident than in the wild fast-paced soul music precursor “Better Get Hit in Yo’ Soul.” His virtuosity is confirmed with the frantically-paced plucked bass on “Hora Decubitus.” Mingus also takes the time to pay tribute to an early contemporary, legendary tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Lester Young, in his composition “Theme for Lester Young.”
The final cut has a decidedly preachy message. The song “Freedom” is the only track on the entire album that has lyrics. In its day the track was so controversial that some copies of the album released by Impulse Records contain one of several alternate tracks. Yet these alternates eviscerate the album as a period piece.
Freedom is the entire point of Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus. It is a vision of an all-encompassing vision of freedom - not just for African Americans. It is about political, social, economic and musical freedom. These themes resonate today in every Occupy Wall Street enclave. It is because the message of Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus is as old as Moses.
- Old School