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Charles Mingus - Blues and Roots
Charles Mingus - Blues and Roots
Bassist Charles Mingus was huge, paradoxical and immensely influential. Responsible for some of the greatest large-scale compositions in Jazz, Mingus helped to transform collective improvisation with his Jazz Workshop, home to such future legends as Eric Dolphy and Jackie McLean. One of Mingus' finest studio recordings was a 1959 session that found him successfully looking both backwards (with group improvising, stop-time breaks and church-like harmonies) and forward (with advanced improvisations and a wider use of emotions than was being utilized in bop). In this edition, George Lane revisits Blues and Roots.

Whether using an all-star quintet/sextet or taking no prisoners with an explosive big band, Charles Mingus made wonderful, hard swinging and progressive Jazz rooted in both the blues/gospel as well as the classic Jazz tradition. Blues and Roots finds him with a rare, in-between-sized nine piece ensemble, focused on that blues and gospel style on six uproarious pieces.

Possessing an Ellingtonian flair for horn voices, Mingus created six rollicking arrangements to be learned by ear, allowing much spontaneity and heart-felt pure soul on the part of the extraordinary horn players. And what a lineup!

Jackie McLean and John Handy on altos, Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis on trombones, Pepper Adams on baritone and the vastly under-recognized and incredibly talented Booker Ervin on tenor, comprise a dream horn section. Propelled by Mingus' enormously powerful bass, Dannie Richmond's nasty drumming and Horace Parlan's inventive piano (Mal Waldron replaces him on one cut), the band rocks through this music like a bunch of fervent country preachers on a sacred mission.

This is the perfect setting for Booker Ervin, who brought a blues-rooted and spectacular intensity to everything he ever played. His roaring solo on the ecstatic 'Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting' and his gut-bucket work on the raunchy 'Cryin' Blues' are particular stand-outs.

Jackie McLean's acid tone, crying the blues over the rest of the horns on the out chorus of the latter, also drops a terrific solo on 'Moanin',' which builds from a nasty, punchy bass line into an incredible wail of blues hollering that sets up exceptional solos by Adams and Ervin as well. Although Handy only takes two solos, including a soaring one on the burnin' 'E's Flat Ah's Flat Too,' and Knepper only one, on the delightful Jelly Roll Morton tribute 'My Jelly Roll Soul,' their ensemble work is monstrous throughout.

With four alternate takes that are also highly enjoyable, this is joyous and stimulating music that rocks as hard as many of the best R&B recordings, but is unquestionably a great Jazz record by a great Jazz artist.

Buy Charles Mingus' CDs here


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