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Charlie Mingus: Charles Mingus: Blues and Roots/Mingus Three/Jazz Portraits/Jazzical Moods

David Rickert By

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Charles Mingus

Blues and Roots/Mingus Three/Jazz Portraits/Jazzical Moods

Avid Records

2011 (1954-59)

If you have a fondness for a particular album by Charles Mingus, chances are you won't find another quite like it in his catalog. The bassist and composer had one of the most wide-ranging careers of anyone in jazz, and no album resembles any of the others. While this may be frustrating for someone looking for another recording just like, for instance, Mingus Ah Um (Columbia, 1959), Mingus' eccentricities ensure that every album has a few surprises. This compilation offers up four Mingus albums that showcase the variety of styles Mingus employed throughout his career. One is an acknowledged classic, the others are lesser-known gems.

Blues and Roots (Atlantic, 1959) is one of the key albums in Mingus' career, a boisterous, rollicking record that has the feel of a car going too fast, always in danger of running off the road. It's basically a less polished version of the classic Mingus Ah Um and as you can gather from the song titles, Mingus is drawing heavily from two of his big inspirations: the blues and the church. Complete with moans and shout outs from the bassist, the band tears through six numbers with fierce passion, to a more than holy rolling effect. And what a band it is: alto and tenor saxophonists Jackie McLean, John Handy and Booker Ervin in the front line with baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams and trombonists Jimmy Knepper and Willie Daniels providing depth to the bottom end. The rhythm section of pianist Horace Parlan (or Mal Waldron) and perennial Mingus sideman, bassist Dannie Richmond, fan the flames from the back. Mingus is at his most energetic here, leading a band that was fully in line with what he was up to. It's hard to imagine a Mingus outfit that ever sounded better.

Mingus Three/Trio (Blue Note) is a 1957 trio recording with pianist Hampton Hawes and Richmond and is surprising in how conventional it is. If you were going to put Mingus in a trio setting, it seems likely you would pick a more idiosyncratic player to hold down the piano bench (like Jackie Byard or even Carl Perkins, if you had to stick with the West Coast). However, Hawes it is, and it's about as good of a trio session as you could ask for. Hawes is a fine pianist and this is more his record than anybody's, as the group works through a series of standards that never threaten to get too abstract. There's plenty of interplay to go around, with Mingus getting a steady helping of solos, showcasing how splendid an accompanist he is.

Jazz Portraits (Blue Note) is one of the neglected classics in the Mingus canon. It's a live date from 1959 featuring a stellar front line of McLean, Ervin and Handy stretching out on four tunes. "No Private Income Blues" is one of Mingus' catchiest recordings while "Alice's Wonderland" is one of his prettiest melodies. Mingus gets plenty of solo room here as well, and as much recognition as he gets as a composer, it's easy to forget what a mighty good bassist he was. You'll hear why here. Richard Wyands was a last minute substitute for Parlan at the piano and does little other than comp in the background, perhaps intimidated by the company.

And it's back to 1954 for Jazzical Moods, the kind of high concept recording that is heavier on composition than improvisation (the presence of the cello is a pretty good indication that we're deep in the land of high art.) Even the liner notes state that this is not music to be grasped in one listen. Very few can pull off an album of this kind without seeming pretentious (or creating a series of songs no one will listen to more than once.) However, Jazzical Moods is pretty good, helped no doubt by an unusual, yet proficient cast. This is the sort of intellectual project John LaPorta would jump at the chance to be involved in, and Teo Macero is also along playing tenor alongside Thad Jones' trumpet. So we get some unusual orchestrations of two standards ("What Is This Thing Called Love" and a wonderfully weird "Story Weather") and "Minor Intrusion," a blues without the usual chord pattern, and the eerie "Abstractions." "Thrice Upon A Theme" is pulled in from the second volume of the collection to fill up the remaining space.

This double CD is a fine collection of one or two albums that many people have probably already heard along with a couple that most probably haven't. Mingus was always heading off into many different directions; here are four of the more interesting ones he pursued.

Tracks: CD1: Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting; Cryin' Blues; Moanin'; Tensions; My Jelly Roll Soul; E's Flat Ah's Flat Too; Yesterdays; Back Home Blues; I Can't Get Started; Hamp's New Blues; Summertime; Dizzy Moods; Laura. CD2: Nostalgia In Times Square; I Can't Get Started; No Private Income Blues; Alice's Wonderland; What Is This Thing Called Love; Stormy Weather; Minor Intrusion; Abstractions; Thrice Upon A Theme.

Collective Personnel: Charles Mingus: bass, piano; Jackie McLean: alto sax; John Handy: alto sax; John LaPorta: alto sax; Teo Macero: tenor sax; Booker Ervin: tenor sax; Pepper Adams: baritone sax; Thad Jones: trumpet; Jimmy Knepper: trombone; Willie Dennis: trombone; Horace Parlan: piano; Mal Waldron: piano; Hampton Hawes: piano; Richard Wyans: piano; Jackson WIley: cello; Dannie Richmond: drums; Clem De Rosa: drums.

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