January 5, 2016

Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um (1959)


For Mingus Ah Um, Charles Mingus flirts with more big band orchestration following the explosion of his unique hard bop pioneer work earlier in the decade. Among Mingus' exceptionally strong arsenal of musicians featured on this record, the pianist, Horace Parlan, is maybe my favorite sideman here and one of the unsung heroes for this album. Parlan only recorded a few sessions with Mingus, which is a shame since his style fits so nicely--he exhibits an atmospheric and bluesy voice accented at some points by the rumble of his slightly disabled left hand (a result of childhood polio) on the lower chords. That style clicks ever-so-nicely with Mingus' odd, wheel-missing, gospel driven vision. Booker Ervin is the other stand-out sideman on this record for me--his bark of a tone is melodic and contributes the most exciting solos on the album and helps offset the sleek, higher-pitched wailing of Shafi Hadi and John Handy. Mingus welcomes back his usual trombone player, Jimmy Knepper, to hold down the fort in terms of strong horn choruses as well as the colorful drummer Dannie Richmond. Though Pithecanthropus Erectus is currently my favorite Charles Mingus album (and I know many people claim The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady as his most personal and exciting work), I consider this to be his most essential album since it latches together his unique hard bop leadership and his experimental big band orchestrations as well as feature some of his most iconic songs. Of course Mingus Ah Um does not come without the added comfiness of the late-50s early-60s Atlantic jazz recordings, making this even more lovable. An influential and simply legendary jazz album that should be heard by everyone.

Sample

Mingus Ah Um