Charles Mingus– Mingus Three (extended reissue)
(Rhino 603497841035 – album review by Mark McKergow)
Friday, April 22, 2022 marks the centenary of the birth of Charles Mingus, double bass player, composer, pianist, conductor, activist and one of the most important figures in jazz. He and his music are not only essential to the development of the jazz tradition, but have also spread beyond it; his collaborations with Joni Mitchell, ballet companies including Robert Joffrey, the surviving Mingus Orchestra and the Big Band still organized by his wife Sue Mingus, civil rights statements and standing, fans including Keith Richards and Kenny Rogers, his autobiography Under the underdog (still in print)… All of this speaks to a man who is still very much alive in his work and his inspiration.
In recognition of this anniversary, Rhino has reissued Mingus Three who finds the man himself in a New York studio in 1957 with the pianist Hampton Hawes and drummer danny richmond. One of only two trio albums recorded by Mingus during his prolific career (the other was from the early 1950s with Tal Farlow and Red Norvo). However, this is not a simple reissue; A whole host of snippets have recently come to light (in the vaults of the Parlophone in London) and so there’s almost twice as much music to enjoy. The new release also includes a 12-page booklet of new liner notes from Mingus’ 1970s arranger partner Sy Johnson (who still works with Sue Mingus) alongside Nat Hentoff’s original liner notes.
Hampton Hawes was a childhood friend of Mingus, a key bebop pianist who was at the height of the awards wave in 1957. He struggled with heroin addiction for many years, being imprisoned in 1958 and released, almost miraculously, by John F Kennedy by Presidential. Grace in 1963. His autobiography get up from me (1974) received praise for its insider’s account of jazz life. He died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1977. It was his only recording with Mingus. Dannie Richmond, on the other hand, held the drum seat in various Mingus bands for two decades; he and Mingus were beginning their relationship around this time and Mingus was clearly already appreciating Richmond’s sensitivity, responsiveness, and flexibility with pace.
Those more accustomed to the spirited tunes of Mingus from his later work (Mingus Ah Um is an album worthy of a place in ANY jazz collection) may find this set a little confusing. Four of the seven digits are standards, and true standard standards. Two tunes are by Mingus (Homecoming Blues and Dizzy Moods) while Hamp’s New Blues is a band jam. The session was recorded in a single day, we suspect without too many repetitions considering the style of arrangement of the head. However, jazz is an improvisational art form and it’s wonderful to hear these three classy musicians make sense of the tunes together, as jazzers around the world have done since the dawn of music.
The album opens with Yesterday, the boppish piano flourishes leading to a fairly quick take on the melody with Mingus again dropping for more Hawes flamboyance. Mingus’ sense of arranger is an important element throughout, his ability to drop out, solo, change rhythms, etc., means this is so much more than a piano trio.” pure “. Homecoming Blues a Mingus leading the roots air before perfectly supporting Hawes’ solo, then moving forward again. I can’t start begins beautifully (defying its own proposition) with the bass leading into the melody, superbly played over Hawes’ sparse chords and Richmond’s shimmering cymbals, Mingus doubling down on the feel of his solo.
Hamp’s New Blues is a 12-bar single that rolls with Richmond given the solo space, and on this merry merry number, we again hear Mingus’ sense of dynamics come into play as the mood swings back and forth. Summer time is a climax with bass riffs that underpin the melody before launching into a walk with real momentum. It’s a far cry from the inescapable dull jam session that we find too often today. Dizzy Moodsbased on chords by Dizzy Gillespie Woody’N’You (and with Dizzy’s blessing) is the first version of the song so memorably recorded on Mingus’ Moods of Tijuana album (recorded a few days later but not released until 1962). It’s taken at a breakneck pace, very recognizable as a classical composition. The set ends with the ballad LauraMingus’ bass embroidering the theme statement in another variety masterclass.
However, the show is not over yet! There are eight samples on the second CD, all numbers from the first set with some blues added. These aren’t the sort of “20-second breakdown when a reed creaks” snippets favored by Charlie Parker’s finalists; these are mostly full takes that could have made the cut well but for (say) an ending that doesn’t quite work. I can’t start, Dizzy Moods and Summer time are particularly good, while the first Untitled Blues buzzing loudspeakers. These are very alternate versions of the tunes rather than junk heap seconds.
Mingus Three is a pleasure to revisit, a simple demonstration of the class of the three musicians of July 9, 1957, and it is the sense of the musical architecture of Mingus which prevails. The album is available on LP and CD.
As a contribution to the centenary celebrations, I would like to offer a Mingus moment that some of our readers may have missed. It’s from the 1962 movie All night long when Richard Attenborough, long before The great Escape or jurassic park, enters his party room to find Charles Mingus playing bass, addresses him as “Chas” and then introduces him to Tubby Hayes (who plays with him on vibes) and the boys. From 2:30 in the movie / link below. Well done, Cha!
CD track listing
Disc 1: Original LP
2. “The Homecoming Blues”
3. “I can’t start”
4. “Hamp’s New Blues”
6. “Dizzy Moods”
Disc 2: The Outtakes
1. Untitled Blues
2. Untitled Blues – Take 2
3. “Back Home Blues” – Take 6
4. “Hamp’s New Blues” – Take 4
5. “I can’t start” – Take 1
6. “Yesterday” – Take 2 (incomplete)
7. “Dizzy Moods” – Take 2
8. “Summer” – Take 3
Connections: Mingus Three (extended reissue) on Presto
Charles Mingus and Richard Attenborough, All night long (1962 movie)