Charles Mingus - Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus
Part Swedish, English, Chinese, and African, notoriously angry, and impossibly creative, Charles Mingus is one of the most famous jazz composers of all time and certainly the most prominent bassist, yet his persona is confusing, diverse, and patchworked. Sure, many popular jazz musicians sported famously self-destructive habits (see also, teh heroin) or personality traits (manic depression), but nobody channeled his own quirks or shortcomings better than Mingus. Some songs are rich, over the top, and aggressive, yet others are also very sensual or intimate, belying the volatility of the composer. And, if his most important compositions are to be used as porthole into Mingus' true personality, the result is just as confused and sporadic as his outward demeanor. To hear "Haitian Fight Song" and then "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," for example, is to view two sides of the same person, continuously flipping back and forth.
With that said, the album Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus
, which will hereafter be known as Mingus x5
, is really a 45 minute summation of Mingus' wide range of these techniques, influences, and styles. This particular album, excepting "Mood Indigo," a Duke Ellington piece, is really just a rerecording of many of Mingus' most striking or famous songs. For example, the two aforementioned songs do in fact appear in the same collection, which are renamed to "II B.S." and "Theme for Lester Young" respectively. So, while those familiar with the original recordings may feel slighted by having an LP full of old material, I feel that this serves as a fitting denouement for Mingus' career. Also, it can serve as a solid introduction to new fans as it acts that way as a greatest hits album, albeit, a wonderfully rerecorded one.
It's because of this greatest hits-esque quality that I want to speak generally about Mingus' style as much as I want to speak specifically about this album. I love how rich all of his harmonies and rhythms are. It enables his songs to be challenging and interesting, and gives his songs a distinctive and memorable twist, rendering each song particularly idiosyncratic. Even the simple blues and dominant circle of fifths chains present in "Better Get Hit in Yo' Soul" feel a little more interesting from the speed at which they are executed. Mingus, as a bassist, always has a unique rhythmic pattern on his songs, which are particularly fun and impressive on the faster songs. "Better Get Hit in Yo' Soul"'s melody and subsequent choruses alternate between the triplet feel of 12/8 and a slower and smoother 4/4, which gives the song a really fun pacing, which suits the lighter and simpler blues background. "II B.S." benefits from both a slinky bass introduction, interesting cymbal accents, and a catchy as hell melodic line that forces the horns into a harrowingly speedy execution. On the harmonic side, which likely also benefits from Mingus' ability with the bass, the rich harmonies also make the songs feel more grandiose, which particularly helps the slower songs like "I X Love" and "Mood Indigo," which seem to languish and amble along as they wrap themselves around the large sounds Mingus chooses to employ.
On a broader, more general level, Mingus x5
feels particularly sensual. There is about a 50-50 split between songs that are played as ballads, or at least slower swings, and songs that are played much faster, yet, the most dominant and memorable songs are the ones that take their time like "Mood Indigo" and "Theme for Lester Young." The faster pieces like "Better Get Hit in Yo' Soul" and "Hora Decubitus" feel like interludes and pacemakers for the true gems of the album. Though, those looking for Mingus' more physically demanding or virtuostic songs may prefer the the more aggressive ones, which I feel are played better here than on any prior recording, I really prefer the tasteful and refined sense I get from the slower tracks, which are almost haunting in their beautiful, slow, drawling style. Indeed, it is a well recorded and clutch album to represent Mingus, though it is rather hodgepodge, due to the diversity of style, but I feel this album is a true classic in Mingus' catalogue, as well as in the jazz world. Unfortunately, this is not striking, new material, but mostly rerecordings making it stale for those looking for new stuff. I, however, as a relative Mingus n00b, love what I hear, even when held against the original recordings found on other LPs.