Jazz CD Reviews

The Jazz Experiments Of Charles Mingus – Bethlehem Records

“In my music I’m trying to play the truth of what I am.” – Charles Mingus.

Published on November 21, 2013

The Jazz Experiments Of Charles Mingus – Bethlehem Records mono BCP-65, 46:28 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

(Charles Mingus – bass, piano, leader; John La Porta – clarinet, alto sax; Teo Macero – tenor, baritone sax; Thad Jones – trumpet; Jackson Wiley – cello; Clem De Rosa – drums)

“Don’t take me for no avant-guard, ready-born doctor”, so says Charles Mingus in a book co-authored by him and John F. Goodman entitled Mingus Speaks. With that in mind what are we to make of this 1954 recording originally released as two ten-inch LPs for Period Records entitled Jazzical Moods and subsequently issued by Bethlehem under the new name, and now—years later—re-issued as part of the re-launch of that storied label?

Charles Mingus was many things. Some of them bad and many of them good but he was undoubtedly a bass prodigy and a genius musical composer that ranked him up there with the likes of Duke Ellington. In the Tanner Lectures on Human Values which was given by Gunther Schuller in 1996 at Cambridge University, he had this to say about Mingus:” If Ellington is …the greatest and most important composer in jazz, then the nearest contender, at least in my view, is Charles Mingus”. Now while the music on this release is promoted as “Jazz Experiments”, they were in fact quite tame as they consisted primarily of contrapuntal harmony, overlapping melody lines, and improvisation interjected within this framework. In effect this music was something of a continuation of the cool offering of the 1949 Miles Davis Nonet Birth Of The Cool recording.

Of the six tracks on this release there are two standards: namely “What Is This Thing Called Love?” and “Stormy Weather,” which in the case of the former Mingus arrangement starts off with several intersecting melody lines lead by Macero’s tenor sax, then followed by Thad Jones’ trumpet. La Porta then picks up the theme on alto with Mingus offering an extended solo on piano. Mingus often thought of himself as a frustrated pianist, but he could really play and he did record a solo piano album in 1963 entitled Mingus Plays Piano. For a more fulsome exposé on Mingus’ piano facility “Four Hands” is a good example. Here he carries a good portion of the composition with a technique which is much in the Thelonious Monk mode with some dissonant chord phrasing and single-note-striking. On “Stormy Weather” Jackson Wiley opens the proceedings on cello, then Thad Jones’ trumpet does a run though of the full chorus and is generally featured throughout to full effect.

Of the remaining two compositions “Thrice Upon A Theme “belongs to Mingus and “The Spur Of The Moment” is La Porta’s. The Mingus number is a very complicated two movement story filled with themes and sub-themes in a minor key and then transposing the melody into a higher key. Mingus’ bass is prominent in setting the scene, with La Porta’s clarinet and Macero’s baritone sax providing a lead in to DeRosa’s drum solo. La Porta’s piece is a somewhat more simple effort, specifically designed to take advantage of Thad Jones’ trumpet which he plays over the over Macero’s tenor and LaPorta’s alto after which they eventually lay out, and then it is Jones and Mingus in a duo effort until the other horns join back in.

An excellent album which portends the ultimate direction of Charles Mingus’ musical journey.

TrackList: What Is This Thing Called Love?; Minor Intrusion; Stormy Weather; Four Hands; Thrice Upon a Theme; The Spur Of The Moment

—Pierre Giroux




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