CHARLES MINGUS — Pithecanthropus Erectus

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CHARLES MINGUS - Pithecanthropus Erectus cover
3.90 | 14 ratings | 2 reviews
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Album · 1956

Filed under Hard Bop


A1 Pithecanthropus Erectus 10:41
A2 A Foggy Day 7:53
B1 Profile Of Jackie 3:07
B2 Love Chant 14:56

Total Time: 36:26


- Charles Mingus / Bass
- Willie Jones / Drums
- Mal Waldron / Piano
- Jackie McLean / Saxophone [Alto]
- J.R. Monterose / Saxophone [Tenor]

About this release

Atlantic – 1237 (US)

Rec. January 30, 1956, New York City

Thanks to snobb, dreadpirateroberts, js for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

“Pithecanthropus Erectus” wasn’t Charles Mingus’ first album, but it was the first one where he took total artistic control and presented what would be the Mingus musical vision for much of the rest of his career. Starting with this album, Mingus’ fascination with Duke Ellington became more apparent as both composers liked to use early New Orleans jazz and the blues as raw material from which to build their musical colors. Mingus took Ellington’s innovations one step further by embracing much of what would soon become the “free” and avant-garde in the world of jazz.

“Pithecan …” opens with the album’s title song which features those unmistakable urban noire jazz/blues riffs that were always the calling cards for both Ellington and Mingus. A few minutes into the song though, Mingus introduces abrupt rhythm changes and hectic solos from his horn players that show he was definitely taking his band into uncharted territory. A lot of people don‘t know what to make of this album’s second tune, but “A Foggy Day” seems to paint the picture of the struggling jazz combo playing an old standard on the corner while the busy and indifferent urban landscape goes on around them. Mingus and his crew create the urban soundscape by skillfully reproducing the sound of traffic and construction with their instruments. Its an odd piece, especially for its time. It’s hard not to notice the appearance of a police whistle and siren, possible a wry comment on the life of a jazz musician during that time.

“Profile of Jackie” begins like a jazz ballad, but then seems to get stuck in some static harmonies for a while before continuing on its path. Its an interesting tune and a nice showcase for Jackie McLean who shines all through this album. “Pithecan…” closes with “Love Chant”, which starts with a mellow repeating modal riff that pre-dates similar riffs like “All Blues” and “Love Supreme”. After this lengthy intro and a few abrupt change-ups, Mingus and the crew break into an old school swing/blues jam driven by a tambourine, not a trap set. Jazz fans may not get what the tambourine is about, but anybody who has lived near an urban Pentecostal Church in California knows how that tambourine will reverberate through the neighborhood during morning services. This last section isn’t jazz, it’s the church music of Mingus’ youth.

This is a good album and a must for Mingus fans, but his later records will show a slightly more developed artistic vision, as well as even stronger performances from his sidemen. Still, you won’t go wrong starting off your Mingus collection with his first near “masterpiece”.

Members reviews

Sean Trane
One of Mingus’ early albums where he shows some uncanny songwriting talent, and one of the earlier example of creative artwork sleeve designing. Released in 56 on the Etlantic Labal, Mingus doesn’t have his future usual suspects (Knepper, Handy & Co), but he has Waldron occupying the piano stool and McLean and Monterose blowing the winds away.

Where this album really makes a difference with the then-competition in the mid-50’s is the almost 11-mins title track, where we get a good glimpse of the future songwriting genius. Indeed, we get to hear some interesting use of chords, away from the usual bop standards. Man, if by today’s standards, PE is relatively normal (well maybe not trivial), I can imagine Charlie spooked a few bop-purists at the time with that track. I wish the rest of the album was of the same ilk, but alas it was not that evident… The following Foggy Day is rather fun and spooky at the same time with car horns, whistles, piano tinkles and some bowed contrabass, so the interest of the album is kept.

Things don’t follow that route on the flipside though, as Jackie’s Profile brings nothing new to the debate - at least not compared to the revolution on the other side of the slice of wax. The closing 15-mins Love Chant features some interesting Waldron piano lines and charming sax breaks, but ultimately it remains fairly standard. So, PE was one half revolutionary, but also firmly entrenched in the day’s music style by it’s other half. PE can be regarded as Mingus’ first major oeuvre, and it should be investigated by every musicologist looking at musical evolution.

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  • Hohesc
  • JimmyJazz
  • Fant0mas
  • zrong
  • GMs
  • F611
  • Anster
  • Drummer
  • Any Colour You Like
  • Noak2
  • richby
  • triceratopsoil

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