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Gospel, Blues And A Whole Lot Of Soul,
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This review is from: Mingus Ah Um (Audio CD)
This 1959 album by master jazz player and composer Charles Mingus is rightly acknowledged as one of Mingus' (and indeed jazz's) finest and most diverse set of compositions. Whilst the album does not have (or need) the vast expansive instrumental sound of Mingus' 1963 masterpiece, The Black Saint And Sinner Lady, its sparser feel is perfectly suited to Mingus' compositions here, particularly on the exquisite slower and moody numbers (of which there is an outstanding selection here).
Of the musicians Mingus assembled for the album, both John Handy's alto and Booker Ervin's tenor playing are particularly noteworthy and idiosyncratic, whilst Jimmy Knepper's trombone is featured in a number of outstanding solos (none better than his sinuous turn on the wonderful slow blues of Pussy Cat Dues, in this case over Handy's rare clarinet theme). Of the more up-tempo numbers, the famous opener, gospel-inspired Better Git It In Your Soul is an fine example, as Handy and Ervin's horns harmonise nicely following Mingus' sultry opening riff, whilst the 12-bar blues Boogie Stop Shuffle is probably the most vibrant number here, with all three saxes (including Shafi Hadi's tenor) making significant contributions to the composition's unrelenting pace.
For me, however, it is on the slower, blues-based numbers that the band's mood playing is particularly affecting. The aforementioned Pussy Cat Dues is a highlight, as is Mingus' famous tribute to tenor player Lester Young, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (ironically, Young died just two months before this recording ), and on which Handy provides a sublimely heartfelt solo, whilst Mingus' 'tribute' to racist Arkansas governor Orval Faubus (who objected to high school racial integration), Fables Of Faubus is another nicely judged blues of faltering pace, featuring one of pianist Horace Parlan's longer solos, but whose overall feel seems strangely light for such a serious subject.
In addition, the 1998 CD re-issue of the album, as well as including (for the first time) the full-length versions of the original album's nine tracks, also includes three additional worthy numbers, the infectious up-tempo Pedal Point Blues, the similarly unrelenting GG Train (featuring Handy's alto) and a more conventional cover of Sonny Clapp's Girl Of My Dreams.