Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah-Um (Columbia, 1959)

Revisiting an old favorite is a treat, and this Mingus masterwork is one of my most favorite jazz albums. Pulling together a little big band consisting of John Handy, Booker Ervin and Shafi Hadi on saxophones, Willie Dennis and Jimmy Knepper on trombone Horace Parlan on piano, Mingus on bass and piano and Dannie Richmond on drums, he combined the frenzied music of the sanctified church with the blistering pace of bebop and ever present swing to create one of his finest albums. Some of the most memorable Mingus compositions and performances adorn this album, beginning with the blasting gospel swing of "Better Git It in Your Soul" where Richmond's deep rhythms and the leaders vocal exhortation whips the horns into a fury. The great dedication to Lester Young "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" has an unforgettable melody, giving way to a slow and steady, yet ever lyrical performance. Brawny and urgent, "Boogie Stop Shuffle" has the horns riffing over fast paced piano, bass and drums. Tenor saxophone and drums are spotlit here with solo spots. "Open Letter to Duke" demonstrates Mingus' admiration of the great Ellington with a rapid and swinging performance pouring waves of alto saxophone over driving bass and drums. Abruptly, the music shifts to a lush multi-horn section featuring rich and vigorous tenor. "Bird Calls" shifts the bands attention to Charlie Parker with some furiously fast paced collective bebop, the horns riff wildly before torrid tenor saxophone spins out. The great anti-segregation anthem "Fables of Faubus" is stripped of its satirical lyrics, but none of its power as the moaning, mocking horns and abrupt shifts and turns make for a remarkable performance. In fact it is hard to find anything on this album that is not remarkable; Mingus was playing and composing at the peak of his powers with a heart-on-sleeve passion and his Jazz Workshop had honed a powerful band able to match him step for step. This is a wonderful classic LP that should be savored again and again. Mingus Ah Um - amazon.com

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