CHARLES MINGUS — Mingus Ah Um (review)

CHARLES MINGUS — Mingus Ah Um album cover Album · 1959 · Hard Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Sean Trane
Another universally-accepted Mingus milestone, on that came in the banner year of 1959, although this writer doesn’t think it’s one of the best of that year. If in Erectus, Mingus had not yet assembled his usual-suspects gang, by the recording of 57’s Tijuana Moods, it was more or less done, even if the album was inexplicably shelved until 62. Sooo, by Ah Um, Knepper, Handy, Hadi and Richmond were Mingus lieutenants and these guys play like one man. Note that Columbia label seemed to be on a roll about more abstract artworks, as this one is very reminscent of Brubeck's Time Out, out that same year.

Opening on the enthralling Better Get It In Your Soul, the album comes to one of the most reprised jazz number in history, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, making Ah Um an incredible starter. As you can Imagine Boogie Stop Shuffle is another enthralling brassy affair that keeps the momentum going. Unfortunately much of that happy-go-lucky inertia is somewhat lost on the slow and soppy Self Portrait, and worse, the slightly-dissonant boppy Open Letter To Duke sounds kind of awkward in the album’s overall colour (so far).

On the flipside, Bird Calls sounds a bit like the birds had gastro-enteritis, because the semi-dissonant hard-bop hardly sounds like any birdsong they’d sing in the wee hours of the morning or any other time (except maybe between the cat’s claws), except maybe for Bird Parker. Personally, by reading its title, I expected Fables Of Faubus to be innovative or experimental, but let’s face it, if a little less accessible to the mainstream crowd, it’s not like it’ll draw any disapproving grimaces. After the gently sensual Pussy Cat Does (what? we’d like to know, Charles;o))) that somewhat overstays its welcome with its over 9-mins length (in JR/F, I’d say yummy ;o))), the album closes on another biggie in the crowd-pleaser category Jelly Roll, but again nothing revolutionary or innovative, like Mingus had gotten us accustomed by now.

As for the three bonus tracks on the CBS remaster are of the same ilk, if a tad more piano-ish for Pedal Point Blues, but the boppy GG Train or the swingy Girl Of My Desire are definitely worthy of making the original cut of the album, but would’ve failed to raise the overall debate on a more challenging side. Soooo, in the revolutionary year of 1959, I find that Mingus’ better-known contributions is a bit of a miss, precisely because it fails to be innovative, especially considering his two prior chef d’oeuvre (mentioned in the fist paragraph). Yes, it’s quite successful and in some ways rivals with Kind Of Blue or Time Out, but this is not Mingus’ best effort, IMHO.

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