“Money Jungle” is one of those albums where you should get the much shorter original version. Later versions include a lot of songs that were not good enough to make the original album, and when you hear them, you can hear why they were left off. It really weakens the impact of the entire album to have these lesser cuts added back on. Putting Ellington with Roach and Mingus was a risky experiment to begin with, and it works occasionally, so why expose the moments that it doesn’t click so well by including tracks that were originally deemed not up to grade, it really makes no sense. Having said that, this review will deal mostly with the original cuts.
Apparently this was a fairly stormy session with Mingus walking out at one point, due to frustration with Max, only to return when Duke persuaded him to return. Things came to a head while recording the title track, you can hear the aggressive frustration, and for some reason this is the track that leads off the album. This track is a bit chaotic, with Mingus way too loud and Duke slamming the piano, and its also one of those tracks where Duke doesn’t seem to totally fit with the world of Mingus and Roach. All three of these musicians are experimenters by nature, but the grooves that Roach and Mingus laid down on here were rooted in modern free ranging hard bop. Hard bop piano is based on a modern RnB language, and Duke didn’t play much RnB, much less 50-60s style RnB. He does his best to fit his style to theirs, but sometimes the in-congruency is evident.
Despite the problems, there are some excellent cuts on here. This is probably one of the most intense versions of “Caravan” you will ever hear, with lots of interesting rhythmic change-ups and one of the best “out there” solos you will hear from Ellington. Exotic ballad “Fleuritte Africaine” is a jewel, pretty in places, and slippery and abstract at times, it features great interplay between Mingus and Ellington. “Wig Wise” is a good grooving composition by Ellington, and the band sounds very coherent on this one. On the less than excellent side of things, "Very Special" is a blues that never really takes off. The remaining two cuts on the original album are two well known Duke ballads, they are well played, but come across as filler due to the fact that Duke practically plays them by himself, and better versions already existed.
So there you have it, the original LP isn’t too bad, an odd experiment in combining styles that works sometimes, but then enter the ‘completion-istas’ who can’t leave well enough alone and we get all these extra tracks that probably should have remained on the cutting floor. Most of these tracks involve some sort of unremarkable blues jam that highlights the three musician’s differences more than their sames. Of the extras, "REM Blues" is probably the best of the lot.