The Jazz Composer’s Workshop
Sessions from Mingus, before he had discovered the trademark witch’s broth sound of his later recordings. What is particularly interesting here are the complex experimental arrangements and interesting melodies; most of the latter are by obscure pianist Wally Cirillo. The sound is somewhat reminiscent of the avant-garde classical music fusions associated with the likes of Lennie Tristano, which I tend not to like, and the soloists are not at the same level as those Mingus would later employ, but this brooding, uneasy music is somewhat unique, and in its own way, pure Mingus.
‘Slop’, the first track, perfectly encapsulates prime Mingus: avant-garde Ellingtonia put to the service of an evangelical, gospel sensibility, and performed with a manic, almost surreal level of intensity driven on by crazed shouts of encouragement which were the musical manifestation of the ever-present threat of physical violence the leader brought to his sessions. There are no weak tracks or even solos: an absolute classic.
Easily my favourite Mingus album, what makes this one so special is the presence of Roland Kirk: it is a shame they did not collaborate more. Mingus sings, shouts and screams, plays piano rather than bass, and generally sounds even more intense and unhinged than usual. One highlight is ‘Ecclusiastics’, which may be the most intense and inspired performance either Mingus or Kirk ever recorded; when Kirk’s solo reaches a level of intensity that few saxophonists could match, he still, uniquely, has somewhere else to go, namely by reaching for extra saxophones! The other highlight is Mingus’ suitably raucous and riotous tribute to Fats Waller: ‘Eat That Chicken’. Check out Jimmy Knepper doing his best Kid Ory (as Mingus quite rightly says: ‘hot diggity dog’)! Also note Mingus’ obsessive repetition of ‘oh yeah’ behind Kirk’s nicely dud solo.
Tonight at Noon
The three other tracks from the 1961 Oh Yeah session, plus two less interesting ones from 1957. The highlight is Kirk’s incredible multi-saxophone solo on ‘”Old” blues for Walt’s Torin’.