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CHARLES MINGUS - Mingus Ah Um cover
4.52 | 38 ratings | 2 reviews
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Album · 1959

Filed under Hard Bop


A1 Better Git It In Your Soul
A2 Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
A3 Boogie Stop Shuffle
A4 Self-Portrait In Three Colors
A5 Open Letter To Duke
B1 Bird Calls
B2 Fables Of Faubus
B3 Pussy Cat Dues
B4 Jelly Roll

CD (1998,Legacy/Columbia – CK 65512 )bonuses:
10 Pedal Point Blues 6:30
11 GG Train 4:39
12 Girl Of My Dreams 4:08


Bass, Composed By – Charles Mingus
Drums – Dannie Richmond
Piano – Horace Parlan
Saxophone [Alto], Clarinet – John Handy
Saxophone [Alto], Saxophone [Tenor] – Shafi Hadi
Saxophone [Tenor] – Booker Ervin
Trombone – Jimmy Knepper (tracks: A1, B1 to B4), Willie Dennis (tracks: A2 to A5)

About this release

Columbia CS 8171 (US)

Recorded at 30th Street Studio, NYC.
May 5, 1959 (A1, B1-B4) / May 12, 1959 (A2-A5)

May 5, 1959 (10)
May 12, 1959 (11, 12)

Thanks to snobb, dreadpirateroberts, js for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

Although he had already made some very good albums, with “Mingus Ah Um”, Charles Mingus finally made the album on which he began to show his full potential. Not only did he write and arrange some innovative and emotionally powerful tunes, but he also introduced a new modern eclecticism to the world of jazz. The strong emotional nature to tunes like “Better Git it in Your Soul” and “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” have made those tracks classics played by many because they carry such personal statements. The up-front emotional quality to the music on ’Ah Um’ was part of a new thing that was also coming up from the avant-garde scene that was just beginning to break out. Meanwhile, the aforementioned eclecticism featured on here may not seem so striking in today’s jazz world where musicians borrow freely from any time period and culture, but “Ah Um” was one of the earliest albums where an artist drew from the past to produce something for the future. Although in all fairness, Mingus would be glad if it was pointed out that Duke Ellington was an influence on a lot of this sort of synthesis.

Along with the aforementioned pair of classics, there are several more great tunes on here; “Bird Calls” is high speed avant-bop, “Boogie Stop Shuffle” is dark driving hard bop, perfect for a noire crime film and “Self-Portrait in Three Colors” is an excellent abstract modern ballad with odd shifting tone colors in the sax section layered beneath the melody. There’s more great tracks, but then there are some odd ones too; “Fables of Faubus” sounds like cabaret/circus music, “Pussy Cat Blues” is simple late night drunk blues and “Jelly Roll” is a goofy mix of antiquated styles over-played like music for tourists.

Adding the purposely antiquated and almost frivolous to such a serious album may seem odd at first, but it is through this sort of eclectic collage effect that the artist presents a broader world. The same thing will happen a decade later in the world of rock and pop when artists will reach for a more ambitious artistic picture. When the Beatles released mind blowing albums like “Sgt Peppers” and “White Album”, odd tracks like “Honey Pie”, “Martha my Dear”, and “Sgt Peppers” (the song) didn’t detract from the artistic integrity of the albums, but instead, these song’s dated and trite sounds added to the insane circus like atmosphere. Much is the same with the modern collage artist who might have a religious symbol positioned against a broken piece of bright plastic, amongst other things, to convey the enormous complex scope of “reality”. Taking all this into account, you could say “Ah Um” was one of the first jazz recordings geared towards the album, not the song, an early “concept album” of sorts.

Some CD re-issues give you a couple extra tunes; “GG Train” is a fun hard bop romp with a lengthy alto solo from John Handy, and “Girl of my Dreams” gets into some of Mingus’ constantly changing arrangements, both tunes make a nice addition to the album. In the 80s, when avant-garde artists like Henry Threadgill led the re-discovery of older styles played with a free abandon, you can bet he was well aware of Mingus’ influence. With so many artists today working with 'mini-big band' ensembles that freely mix complex arrangements with improvisation, Mingus’ influence is bigger than ever.

Members reviews

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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