Ellington had to chase Mingus to the elevator and convince him to return by reminding him how good this record label had been to him. The tension between these three players be it due to Mingus' anger or the age gap between Duke and his sidemen, led to an interesting communication of music that often can sound more like a shouting match than one of Haydn's "intellectual conversations amongst equals."
It became clear that Duke was more than aware of the music his sidemen and their peers have been playing at the beginning the album with the opening track "Very Special." He had a Thelonious Monk style approach, rhythmically involving short motivic phrases displaced throughout the measure rather than more traditional melody based phrases, or the barrage of notes that Charlie Parker used to define a new generation of playing. Instead, Duke followed a method of phrasing that is similar to a style later explained by jazz educator and trombonist Hal Crook. Crook's method of improvisation follows several different steps with the idea of creating a motivic themed solo rather than an explosive bop solo, including utilizing space, repetition, fragmentation, extension, and displacement. Space meaning resting for entire measures or longer and repetition being rather self-explanatory, once a theme is developed the concept of fragmentation and extension simply means playing short parts of the theme rather than the whole phrase or extending it with more notes to take up more space. This is similar to Haydn's string quartet op.33 in Eb Major. The final method that Crook describes that all three musicians used, is the rhythmic displacement of the phrase. Ellington would take one phrase and play it starting it in different parts of the bar. This created rhythmic motion and can even fool listeners into thinking that more polyrhythmic ideas are being formed.
One of the main stylistic features of this album is Mingus' Delta-blues influenced playing. He was able to mimic the sound of a Robert Johnson or Son House style slide guitar on his bass. His sound on this album has also often been compared to the Brazilian berimbau. Though he was known as one of the most virtuosic double bassists of all time, Mingus chose to put feeling and instinct before virtuosity on this album. Mingus was making a statement about his heritage here. He was playing in a way that was directly influenced by African American music. He plays as if he was struggling, as if he had the weight of an entire movement resting on his shoulders. His compatriots joined him in this endeavor and helped to ease his load as they followed suit in his motivic ideas.
This album is usually not considered to be "avant-garde" by critics and jazz literary figures, but it does embody the movement that the avant-garde spear headed. Around the recording of this album and its release, Ornette Coleman
had brought his quartet to New York City
and John Coltrane
was putting together what is arguably the most famous avant-garde jazz ensemble of all time. All these musicians were living and working in the same city and were very much aware of one another. Within 10 days of recording Money Jungle
, Duke Ellington also made a record of music with John Coltrane in a much more traditional style. Seeing as this recording followed the Money Jungle
, session it is very likely that Ellington told Coltrane about the session and maybe even showed him some of the music. The treatment of dissonance on this album, and adjustments made to traditional 12-bar blues forms directly correlates with and reflects the turmoil of the avant-garde sound and the violence of the late 50's and 60's. Jazz of this era became more about listening to one another, rather than playing simply when it was your turn. These musicians improvised as a unit, not as individuals.