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Mingus Ah Um

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Album Review

Charles Mingus' debut for Columbia, Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist's talents and probably the best reference point for beginners. While there's also a strong case for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady as his best work overall, it lacks Ah Um's immediate accessibility and brilliantly sculpted individual tunes. Mingus' compositions and arrangements were always extremely focused, assimilating individual spontaneity into a firm consistency of mood, and that approach reaches an ultra-tight zenith on Mingus Ah Um. The band includes longtime Mingus stalwarts already well versed in his music, like saxophonists John Handy, Shafi Hadi, and Booker Ervin; trombonists Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis; pianist Horace Parlan; and drummer Dannie Richmond. Their razor-sharp performances tie together what may well be Mingus' greatest, most emotionally varied set of compositions. At least three became instant classics, starting with the irrepressible spiritual exuberance of signature tune "Better Get It in Your Soul," taken in a hard-charging 6/8 and punctuated by joyous gospel shouts. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" is a slow, graceful elegy for Lester Young, who died not long before the sessions. The sharply contrasting "Fables of Faubus" is a savage mockery of segregationist Arkansas governor Orval Faubus, portrayed musically as a bumbling vaudeville clown (the scathing lyrics, censored by skittish executives, can be heard on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus). The underrated "Boogie Stop Shuffle" is bursting with aggressive swing, and elsewhere there are tributes to Mingus' most revered influences: "Open Letter to Duke" is inspired by Duke Ellington and "Jelly Roll" is an idiosyncratic yet affectionate nod to jazz's first great composer, Jelly Roll Morton. It simply isn't possible to single out one Mingus album as definitive, but Mingus Ah Um comes the closest.

Customer Reviews

A True Monument of Jazz

For sure one of Jazz's best albums. Mingus is so experimental as heard in "Bird Calls", "Boogie Stop Shuffle" and every other side. This is a vital album for any jazz listener, musician, or human for that matter. You may want to buy the real CD for this one though, I'm sure cheaper prices are out there...and a physical copy never hurts..This album is just great..Mingus be praised.

A true triumph

This album is so refreshing and original that it almost defies belief. Mingus Ah Um ranks up with Kind of Blue, Sergeant Pepper, and whatever else you might have chosen as your all time favorite album. This music was recorded at a time when jazz was extraordinarily accessible, gripping and engaging. A few years later, fusion, free jazz and sheets of sound would turn jazz into an intellectual exercise that mostly killed its popular appeal. But Mingus did something here that required a perfect combination of heart, soul and intellect that would never be matched again. And he brought gospel fervor, melancholy blues and sheer playfulness into his work like a Picasso throwing paint on a canvas.

Some of the best jazz I've heard.

This album is amazing. There is nothing more to say. Describing incredible jazz is impossible -- but if I had to say something about this album, I would say that it is a breathtaking blend of every musical quality that jazz should contain... I could listen to each instrumental part on its own and still put this with my favorite albums of all time. Without doubt, anyone who considers themselves an appreciator of jazz or any form of music should have this in their collection.


Born: April 22, 1922 in Nogales, AZ

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Irascible, demanding, bullying, and probably a genius, Charles Mingus cut himself a uniquely iconoclastic path through jazz in the middle of the 20th century, creating a legacy that became universally lauded only after he was no longer around to bug people. As a bassist, he knew few peers, blessed with a powerful tone and pulsating sense of rhythm, capable of elevating the instrument into the front line of a band. But had he been just a string player, few would know his name today. Rather, he was...
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