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Charles Mingus: Thrice Upon a Theme

Kurt Gottschalk By

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In 1956, bassist, bandleader and composer Charles Mingus began an ascent that would carry him at least until the Town Hall debacle of 1962. The explosion of energy, passion and fury that he would exhibit over those six years could barely be predicted from the dozen or so records he'd already released—good records, but tame compared to the drive of Mingus Ah Um (Columbia, 1959) or the free roll of Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus (Candid, 1960).

Those earlier sessions have also been repackaged a number of times, and it would be easy enough to end up with multiple copies with different titles. This latest two-disc edition is tidier than some, collecting the thirteen tracks that were released across Jazzical Moods and The Jazz Experiments of Charles Mingus (from 1954, first released on the Period label) and The Mingus Three (from 1957, originally released on Jubilee). The former feature a sextet with Thad Jones (trumpet), John LaPorta and Teo Macero (saxophones), Clem DeRosa (drums) and Jackson Wiley (cello, filling the bass role); the latter documents a trio with Hampton and—marking the beginning of what would be Mingus's most important musical relationship—drummer Dannie Richmond.

While in hindsight the sessions are a little polite, maybe even timid, they show the developing ideas of Mingus the arranger. Especially with the sextet, it's easy to see that he had many of the pieces in place, he just hadn't thrown open the throttle yet. But fine post bop playing and a couple standards ("Stormy Weather, "Summertime ) still make for good listening.

The Australian label AIM's packaging, however, is a different story. The material would be impossible to place in Mingus's discography without being able to peg a year by who's in the band. The liner notes provide an overview of his career, but they say close to nothing about the particular music being reissued. And worst of all, the cover lifts the photo from the 1978 album Something Like A Bird, one of the last albums released during his life. (The back cover gets it closer, lifting the pic from the 1955 album The Charles Mingus Quintet Plus Max Roach.) Strange, too, since Jazz Experiments had such a nice cover, but let's not speculate on whether it's easier to get (or get away with not having) the rights to music or cover images. The music's out there, in a variety of forms, and well worth hearing.

Track Listing: CD1: What is This Thing Called Love; Minor Intrusions; Spur of the Moment; Thrice Upon a Theme; Four Hands; Stormy Weather. CD2: Laura; Hamp's New Blues; Summertime; Dizzy Moods; Yesterdays; Back Home Blues; I Can't Get Started.

Personnel: Charles Mingus: bass, piano; Thad Jones: trumpet; John LaPorta: alto saxophone; Teo Macero: tenor and baritone saxophone; Jackson Wiley: cello; Clem DeRosa: drums; Hampton Hawes: piano; Dannie Richmond: drums.

Title: Thrice Upon a Theme | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: AIM Records


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