CHARLES MINGUS — The Clown (review)

CHARLES MINGUS — The Clown album cover Album · 1957 · Hard Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
js
In 1957 avant-garde jazz was just around the corner and a lot of artists were showing signs of restlessness in their search for something new. Although “The Clown” is not a particularly radical record, it was definitely some of the more innovative jazz coming out at the time. Rather than rely on the usual head tune followed by solos, Mingus’ tunes on here feature extensive arrangements that somehow transform his quintet into a miniature progressive big band. Much credit should go to trombonist Jimmy Knopper and saxophonist Curtis Porter whose improvised counterpoint make the band sound larger than just five. Most of these songs are comprised of multi sections in which meter, tempo and mood may change entirely as the song moves into a new section.

“Haitian Fight Song” uses primitive call and response horns similar to the earliest days of jazz. This is a technique Mingus will return to throughout his career, and one of the many things he has in common with Ellington as well. Like many other songs on here, “Fight Song” has surprise tempo changes that keep the listener and performer on their toes. Another classic Mingus/Ellington technique is the use of noire jazz minor key chord progressions popular with black and white crime movies. This sound is used to full effect on “Reincarnation of a Lovebird”, which Mingus tops with a modern abstract melody that unwinds with odd modulations. The newer version of “The Clown” LP comes with two bonus cuts, both of these extra songs show the band pushing into even more experimental arrangements, but it is possible that these two tunes were left off the original album due to performances that were less focused than the four original songs.

This album’s title cut is an interesting experiment in which narrator Jean Shepherd improvises a bitter sweet tale about a clown driven to death by the cynical entertainment industry. While Jean tells the story, he is backed by the musicians improvising odd circus and cabaret music like an avant-garde version of Nina Rota or Kurt Weill. Shephard’s voice and delivery invoke a by gone pre-TV era when a good narrator could do so much with their voice. All of these songs combine and create a mood that is so very Mingus; the primitive early jazz, the crime soundtracks, the blues language, the theater/cabaret atmosphere and the border line avant-garde experiments all fit together perfectly.
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more than 2 years ago
Yes, a lost art - makes me jealous really!
js wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Isn't that narration classic, no one knows how to speak like that any more.
more than 2 years ago
Makes me want to put the album on right now

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