Music Notes: Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus

January 13th, 2003  |  Published in Uncategorized

Part of this term’s class load is “Jazz History,” which includes the requirement of two weekly jazz CD reviews. They’re only supposed to be a page long, but a paragraph or two on every track makes them run on. So rather than wasting my pre-condensed notes, I’m putting them up here, starting with the kickoff album, Charlie Mingus’ Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus.

Charles Mingus

Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus

Sample track (streaming):

II.BS

“II.BS” opens this album, and it’s one of my favorite tracks on any CD. Each piece of the ensemble introduces itself, from the bass, mic’d close enough that you can hear the player’s fingers moving up and down the strings, to the brass, which initially seem to devolve into chaos before the whole ensemble comes back together to drive the piece forward. It’s a bustling, urgent track. Volkswagen’s use of this was mercifully brief.

“I X Love,” the second track, has none of “II.BS” ‘uptown traffic’ feel, and feels like a melancholic variant on film noir saxophones. It picks its way through the melody, with the saxes providing a quiet, descending counterpoint to the brass. The whole track is daydreamy, with periodic bursts of sax-driven flight.

“I X Love” moves very easily into “Celia,” which momentarily sheds the drifting, airy sound of “I X Love” for a more straight-ahead, uptempo sound, then alternates between the two. During the faster-moving periods, the drums are a lot of fun to listen to: they’re on-tempo and easily read, but peppered with fills… it’s hard not to feel my stomach drop or my heart skip a little when I focus solely on the rhythm section. A saxophone solo at the end recapitulates both the driving and dreamy themes before the track ends.

“Mood Indigo” returns us to the melancholic sounds we heard as background chorus in “I X Love.” There’s a lovely bass solo, with accompanying brushes on the snares and airy, sparse piano that evoke a rainy day and empty streets.

“Better Get Hit in Yo’ Soul” is more upbeat and and even playful, turning the deeper saxophones loose in a chorus that’s fast and articulated. The saxes remain all over the place on this track, and much like “II.BS,” it’s all over the place until the mid-point, when a simple, clapped rhythm and coherent sax work bring it back for a rally and a second flight into complex melodies and counter-melodies that periodically mesh into brass and woodwind joining each other. The last minute-and-a-half moves the piece into a straight-ahead sound, perhaps more reminiscent of swing owned by the saxes and only punctuated by the brass.

“Theme for Lester Young” feels like a much less swirling, busy piece. It’s more simply melodic, with much more traditional solos coming and going. The overall sound is once again quiet and melancholy, with the piano providing dissonant background that aren’t realized until the final moments of the track.

“Hora Decubitus” once again launches into the same fast-moving, rushing sounds of “II.BS.” There’s some strong trombone work providing a counterpoint to the sax line and some angry, caterwauling trumpet work going on in the back. A midpoint sax solo is disjointed and squealing before giving way to a trumpet leads the ensemble back into more of the swirling and busy complexity that’s marked the upbeat portions of this CD.

“Freedom” opens with an evocation of slave fields and chain gangs, with a brief monologue and backing vocal chorus. The monologue is an overt admonition of the red-baiting opponents of the Civil Rights movement, and a reminder of better days to come. The body of the track launches again into fast-moving, straight-ahead sounds. When it does slow down, it’s less melancholy and drifting than earlier tracks, much more robust and direct. Though it might seem like the odd track out, especially to listeners more comfortable with the kitchen sink aesthetics of a lot of pop and college radio, it provides a unification of the two musical themes at work throughout the album.

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