CHARLES MINGUS / Mingus Small Band Mixtape
The music on the 1959 Mingus Ah Um album, and to a lesser extent on the follow-up 1959 Mingus Dynasty recording, are widely considered major achievements not just as classic work in Mingus’ extensive oeuvre but also, and more importantly, as a perennial selection of critics’ top jazz albums of all time. Coming on the heels of the forties bebop revolution, jazz bifurcated into a cool style featuring complex harmonies and intricate arrangements. Often known as West Coast jazz, the main voices were white and generally played in soft and subdued tones. An opposite approach came to be known as hard bop. These guys were heavy on the solos and played in a fiery, blues-based style. Apropos of the commercially dominant cool jazz approach, the leading jazz group of the fifties was undoubtedly the Modern Jazz Quiartet (MJQ), an all-black ensemble who were the coolest of the cool and ended up being the longest lasting quartet in jazz history with the same four members together for over twenty years. Their music was a blend of the technical mastery of bebop with classical music but played in a cool style. Born in Arizona, and early on associated with the West Coast, Mingus’ music was anything but cool. Even though Charles Mingus was one of the major composers in jazz history, he mostly passed on his music by ear. Although he had major arrangements, he featured long, improvised solos. Mingus’ earlier recordings on Atlantic Records featured quartets and quintets, often with only three or four long, blowing tracks that were heavy on improvisation and light on arrangements. Ah Um and Dynasty were a major departure from well received albums such as Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956) and The Clown (1957). These 1959 recordings featured Mingus’ compositions adroitly arranged to highlight both the startling originality of the compositions themselves as well as the short but very potent solos. Throughout the session, Mingus’ audible exhortations to his band members can be heard urging the musicians to higher and higher emotional outpourings. Rarely are we presented with such a sterling and moving recorded achievement. Noteworthy is how often the sidemen deliver some of their best recorded solos while working with Mingus. Mingus had the ability to inspire the musicians to go far beyond where they normally go on other recordings. Rarely in the history of recorded jazz do we get such an awesome combination of quality compositions, inventive arrangements and impassioned solos. Mingus Ah Um is truly a jazz classic. —Kalamu ya Salaam Mingus Small Band Mixtape Mingus Ah Um 01 “Better Get Hit in Yo' Soul” 02 “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” 03 “Boogie Stop Shuffle” 04 “Open Letter to Duke” 05 “Fables of Faubus” 06 “Pussy Cat Dues” Mingus Dynasty 07 “Song With Orange” 08 “Gunslinging Bird” 09 “Things Ain't What They Used To Be” 10 “Mood Indigo”
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