Quantcast

Charles Mingus snarled at Richard Meltzer

A tale of two CDs

JOY AS I KILL IT

Hi, returning your... Oh hi, I’m having another rock trivia game tomorrow night and I... Where'd, who gave you my number? George. Is that okay? Well, there's not much I can ... What I was hoping, ’cause the questions are so lame, the songs they use, I’m making my own tape, and George is gonna make one — could you make a tape? I don’t think there's time, uh, why’s it have to be rock trivia? It’s the game itself that’s lame. What would you rather play, poker? No, poker is about money and what's rock trivia, "honor”? I don’t really care about either of those this week. I’ve never played poker, you have to memorize all the red cards and black cards and the counting. You probably win all the time. No, I've never actually won an entire, never come out ahead. I haven't played in a long, got no money.

Music collage

Music collage

Christa Malone

And the other thing I was calling, you’d be the one to, what’s a good McCoy Tyner album? In his own name? Yeah. There aren't any. I heard his latest and it sounded ... I think he’s awful. He was always a symptom of Coltrane's latent conservatism — can't do without a piano, can't quite shake, no matter how far his music, blow the top off the universe and he still needs to have, not only not even just as a metronome, a compass — 1, 2, 3, 4, give me the changes — but to have somebody there tickling, y’know, being all these by-then superfluous cornball things your average competent piano player still generally tended to be. In terms of sound, his basic attack, to me McCoy Tyner is just a flowery cocktail player with some hardbop pretensions who learns how to maintain, y'know, this required trance pattern Coltrane gave him, this sort of pre-Philip Class repetition module or... What about “My Favorite Things?” Well, okay, at his best, and he played his assigned role perfectly, but it was, in and of, it was so not a big deal you can hear, by '62 you get the same monotonous line done to death, in totally conventional circumstances, by Cedar Walton with Art Blakey. I kind of like his arpeggios on the Ballads album.

Well that’s Coltrane’s worst. His worst on Impulse anyway. Oh, I really ...That was the one he did after, Bob Thiele must've, like his Ellington album wasn't somehow evidence enough that he could play mainstream for, he had to do these tinkle-tinklers like "Too Young to Co Steady" and "Nancy with the Laughing Face." I like those. Well, you want ballads, he'd already, well the one after that with Johnny Hartman... I don’t know that one. Oh, it's great, it pushes that theme so far it comes out the other end of the squaresville map, and even before that you got "Out of This World" on the Coltrane album, the one just called Coltrane — I don’t know that one either. — on Impulse, blue cover, not the one on Prestige — which is a nice over-the-edge, 14 minutes long, not one of these easy-digestible bite-size things like on Ballads, more like the cataclysmic stuff on Live at the Village Vanguard and Impressions ... Those I have. They are good. ... where he's over the edge of, whatever metaphors you want, and Tyner, even there, still hasn't, he's this incredible rhythmic/harmonic drudge, still playing "My Favorite Things" while Coltrane's already a full, whole stage or two beyond that.

I mean why Coltrane after a certain point felt he needed any piano for what he was doing is really, the proof he didn't really mean business on Ascension ... Got that. But I don’t play it. ... is he brings in all these guys, like John Tchicai solos, Archie Shepp and Marion Brown take great solos, all these people blowing, blowing — and this is when blowing your brains out was practically an end in, a priority, that's the context — and he lets McCoy, the straight man of the session, half a step up from Ahmad Jamal, solo too!

You can’t recommend...

Okay, let me think, there's one on Milestone called, I think it's Echoes of a Friend, buncha Coltrane songs, at least it's a familiar reprise of, I'm sure it's out of print. You 're talking solos, trios? Yeah, or larger. Well, his, I dunno, quintets, sextets, I can’t listen to that shit. His idea of hornplayers — okay, Coltrane fires him, replaces him with someone even worse, his wife Alice, then he’s gotta replace — his replacements for Coltrane, he’s had some really godawful, Hubert Laws, Gary Bartz, who's he got now, John Blake? The only violinist worse than John Blake, well, okay, trios. The first album he did in his own name, 4 Inception, I bought it, no great shakes but it's from that same, when he was still with Coltrane. There's a CD out, two Impulse LPs combined, probably Inception, I’m guessing, Nights of Blues and Ballads, if that's the other one it wasn't terrible.

Speaking of CDs, I just got a Doors CD you might be interest ... I can't stand rock CDs, haven’t heard one yet that, whenever I play one side by side with the vinyl the CD always sounds like a blueprint for, uh, like no more than a diagram for what, from the vinyl, I know the true sound to be. Well this doesn’t, it’s pretty close... I dunno, Elektra, you ever, the only Elektra CD I've heard is Forever Changes, which I used to love and I can’t even ... it’s so absurdly clear you get details audible that were in the realm of total conjecture, total, wild guesswork on your part, listening, to the original. Well that should be good then. Wasn’t, that was an album where details were the best part. Well I’m not, well, details, there was also lots of good murk, the sloppy, murky mix was what the record sonically was. As far as, what you in fact heard, every detail, real or imagined, plugged into, or you extracted it from, this viable dense mess. It wasn't foreground in some brittle diorama with arrows pointing and outlines drawn around everything. Maybe "mess" is the wrong — but also vinyl is just so much warmer, no CD I've heard, even jazz, acoustic stuff, is as warm-sounding as vinyl. This Doors thing isn’t very different.

Is it remixed? Remastered. They didn’t add bass or bring up the drums or anything? Not so I could tell. It’s okay. And there’s another one that I know you would like, an unissued Byrds, I forget the... Oh, that thing on, Never Before. Yeah, isn’t... I hate that album, somebody sent me the vinyl. It just — how more sleazy can you get than falsifying, it's like Jane Fonda doing her, revising the ‘60s. Whuddo you mean? Those mixes are from six months ago. You sure? The version of “Eight Miles High" is completely different. The guitar parts are different, the ... Well that’s an actual alternate take, they say, although, uh, I mean that biz about "true stereo for the first time"— didn't you read the notes?

What, they went back to the original four-track and... I dunno, some might be the, I didn't read all, most I think are brand new mixes. Jim Dickson, he was once what, their manager, I don’t think he ever produced their, not on Columbia, he and some other guy remixed it. It sounds great, though, "Mr. Tambourine Man,” the stereo is ... See, I consider it a travesty to do anything to the original sound. It’s a sacred document, you don't fuck with it, who cares if you only heard something in mono, or fake stereo, whatever? It ain’t fake if that's how you heard it, and how they released it, for whatever motives or expediencies or.... If it doesn 't represent the actual push-pull, the sociology of a band, working as a band — McCuinn wants this part up, Crosby wants, the A&R creep's fidgeting, Hillman’s asleqp — what’s the point? And anyway, just to toy with, to scare up another nuance, even if you could, now, this far after the fact, is nuts. It's like traveling back in time so Mister Bluster can wear different shoes on an episode of Howdy Doody.

What about the previously unissued cuts? What, "Triad," you gotta hear Crosby do it himself? The lyric isn't, Grace Slick wasn't silly enough? "Never Before," nothing special, you can see why they never, "Thoughts and Words" meets "Don't Make Waves," and even if it isn’t why release it now? Why release unissued jazz then? How can ... Well, jazz is more about ongoing, its whole history is the unit — everything is simultaneous — and the rock unit is maybe a moment if even, a micromoment, a succession of barely continuous micro-moments. What's past is dead-dog past, and if it hasn 't played the first time, meaning if you haven’t internalized it, since you're half of — if it didn’t impact on your consciousness then, and your sub, during its brief, allotted uh, it didn't exist. And since it didn’t exist, it doesn't exist — there's no rock and roll outside that tearaway, throwaway type of time. You can’t put it, shove it back into time if it wasn't there to begin with. I may be one contrary asshole, but there aren’t ten rock songs from before I started listening that I later heard that meant anything to me, some Carl Perkins on Sun maybe, a Little Richard or two, but...

I see we disagree.

I guess. Well, when you come over you can tell me what Coltrane albums to get. Should I bring beer? No, I’ve got, is Corona okay? Yeah, fine. How bout we just sit around and play records? I don’t think you’d wanna listen to my live Neil Young bootlegs or... Probably not. I guess we should play. I can’t get you to make a tape? There's not really time. Okay, well I’ll see you. Yeah. 'Bye. Goodbye.

JOY AS I LIVE IT

A year ago I bought a CD player for the same reason I’m about to spend a half-year’s rent on a word processor: because it’s compulsory. Technology as mass extortion: pay or be removed from the cultural map. In two shakes of a gnat’s ass they won’t be MAKING RECORDS anymore, not the majors, not even the minors. Most minors, in fact, American jazz labels especially (distributors in Japan, the most significant current market for jazz, won’t handle vinyl, won’t touch it), are already issuing CD-only releases. And what do the fuckers cost, $12.99 list? Not to mention the griefful end prospect of what?to?do? with all the albs you’ve accumulated, including treasures and arcana — they can’t reissue everything— unlikely in any possible world to see the light of CD being. (What, that is, except stock up in styluses before they stop selling them.) Woe woe woe — but they are good for some things....

Twenty-three, no, twenty-four years ago, the winter-spring before the so-called Summer of Love, I was a first-year graduate student at Yale, soon to become a former grad student. Following a semester of academic serendipity, lacing papers on Kant, Spinoza, C.S. Fteirce et al with florid yet on-the-dime references to rock rock rock (and roll), thus laying the groundwork, unbeknownst to etc., for Rock Criticism as we now sadly know it, I’d been told, “Straighten up” — i.a, read and reread my Kant, Spinoza, Peirce and scribble lifeless treatments with reference to nothing but same — "or you’re out.” As I had no intention of straightening up — I mean Jesus fuck I was on a roll, a mission, enriching the textual gamut, the palette!, of Philosophy f’r crying out loud — all that remained was to take more drugs and spin my LPs, piss more people off, aimlessly wander grim gray New Haven, and spend my last fellowship check on every LP, British or American, current or old, I didn't already have.

Copping three-four at a time (no newies till every purchase had been absorbed, memorized), it took me a while, which is prob'ly what kept me from splitting till April, but by the time I was done I’d acquired such hotstuff as the first Doors, the Left Banke, Buffalo Springfield, the Yardbirds’ Over Under Sideways Down, Velvet Underground & Nico, the first two by both the Fugs and the Airplane, first Mothers, Who and Tims Hardin and Buckley, Love and Da Capo, Donovan’s Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow (and the 45 of "Epistle to Dippy’ ’), two or three early Dylans that for whatever reasons hadn’t previously tempted me, Got Live if You Want It! (already had Between the Buttons — natch), Pet Sounds, two copies (just to be safe) of "Strawberry Fields''/"Penny Lane," Them Again, the Moody Blues’ Go Now!, the Association’s Renaissance (containing "Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies")... and my final buy, a week before packing my booty and scramming, was the Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday. A shitload, all told, of some good, great shit that could’ve, should’ve, and in fact probably did save the world — to the extent that it even made it past the '60s — a great ’n’ glorious time for music (bulk-manifesting limitless Possibility) and little, ultimately, else. Rockroll certainly has a great future behind it — and the future is then.

Ever-generous asshole (and messianic putz) that I was, I would share this bounty with fellow philo gradpersons, those of "my" generation, or at least my age, whenever poss. I’d invite them to my room, tweedy jackjoes who would finish every thought with "as it were" and probably (from tenured easyseats at UC San Fug-gawugga and Princeton) still do, fight them a joint, their first and probably last, and show/tell ’em the "reiterated meta-tongue fadeout” in the Byrds’ "If You’re Gone" or "osmotic tongue pressure" in "Doctor Robert." They’d cough, look at me like I was a goddam comedian, and ask me to play (once again) the "dirty parts" of "Homemade Shit” by the Fugs. It was a lonely fife. Needless to say, I didn’t get laid much. Of the fewer than ten women in the department, the only one whose mushpie I actively pursued, a third-year student whom I’d made out with once at a sherry party, and who herself was pursuing ways to avoid a Heidegger thesis, was interested in me solely, it turned out, for my "stuff" — weed not stalkmeat. Which anyway brings us, me, you-me, to topic number one of this piece.

Lovelessness. Or lovelost-ness. Or whatever the fuck, recalled. Sonically.

’Cuz in addition to being wretchedly unwanted at frigging Yale I was at the same time, or a half-step off, being knocked pillar to post by the heartbreak of Heart break: breakup with the first great love o’ my life, my college sweetheart Marthy. Trueloveforever!, truelovefor-ever!, meatlove/eatlove, the whole package — two years’ worth (or a year and 2/3) — then she ran off and married her math professor. Waited till after the last final of my senior year (so I wouldn’t flunk it: gee, thanx), then went off with this weasel to Massachusetts. I hadn’t seen it coming. Devastated, leveled, life not worth a thimble of roach pus. A summer of gloom, tears and shit, new Beatles/Stones/Dylan LPs out and no one to share ’em with. It was her I’d lived it all with, from boy-girl to Absolute-unfolds-Itself, the first time through. Heart — mind — body — soul — w/ rock & roll sinew and flavor. Double withdrawal!

At the Beatles’ Shea Stadium show in August I ran into her with the weasel... "Howzit going?" Yowch. Weeks passed, I got her address, strained letters back and forth, then suddenly less strain, gratuitous buzzwords of (possibly genuine) ardor, culminating in she writes to say she’s coming back — Thanksgiving — can’t live without me, a grave mistake, now we’ll be together always — Then of course she calls (as I’m just about to leave to meet her bus) to say, "I’m not coming back. I’m hanging up and leaving the phone off the hook. Don’t try to reach me. I will never see or speak to you again."

Which isn’t strictly true — she burned me again in 72 — but for our mythic purposes here, close enough. As the years marched by I would never listen to anything by James Taylor (same surname as her husband) or Jesse Winchester (same face). So anyway I’m in New Haven, '66 into '67, winter into spring, dual griefs befouling the air of my room. Dual cooties, e.g., yellow roses, dried, lying where I tossed them, fresh, the afternoon she failed to reappear; the 58-page "Philosophy of Science from a Pop Perspective," inside, exactly as submitted, a Beatles VI album cover, returned ungraded by the late Norwood Russell Hanson (may he suffer eternal AIDS in hell). Inhaling their fading but still potent effluvia I play side two of Younger Than Yesterday, then take an uncommonly pleasant springtime stroll, thinking I don't need this shit and, slightly later, OK, I’m outa here. Ivy exit track — I’ll never forget it — the Byrds.

Fast forward to September: a new ladyfriend (Julie) whom I will remain with, for better and/or worse, for the next, oh, many years; new Byrds single (“Lady Friend”), which I will hear but a handful of times, all on radio, and never fully absorb.

The decades pass like decades...

Slowly and not so surely I’ve grown accustomed to CD. I could still give a flying hoot for any hypothetical advances in drawing room “sound quality” — with my cheesy speakers you would hardly hear the diff — but it does appeal to me that without destroying a recording you can now actually play something enough times in real time to hammer it into your consciousness, suspend it in your blood. To love an album, a side, a cut, is no longer to kill or maim it — as I did with too many if not all of my ’60s favorites. Nor is it necessary anymore to endure entire recordings or sides just to get at individual 2-minute-30-sec-ond treasures (or not-so-treasures) in repeat mode. With direct access to the unit cut you can gut-check and audition to your heart’s content, and replay ultimate good’uns till you (but not they) drop. It was due to this latter option, and this alone, that I got to again, or at last, meet up with "Lady Friend.”

Some song, geez. Gotta be David Crosby’s best. “Here it comes again, the night is going to fall, here it comes, she’s going to say goodbye” — wow, a rejection tune! But with a certain hoky defiance, an affirmative oompah to the dumb side, the Crosby side, of arrogant — there’s always another groupie, right? (a term and concept barely even coined yet): “She’s going to go and take her trinkets, and I will HAVE TO LIVE WITHOUT HER and survive” ... sounds do-able. Played in a sinister minor (with overdubbed horns and some of the best drumming ever on a Byrds track) but the feeling, you’d hafto admit, is up. Very. As transcendent of lovelost as “Fun, Fun, Fun” had been of loss of vehicular bounty. Universe of pain and rapture! Great single, great song.

Which I never bought because I figured, well, it would end up on an album. But when Crosby, notorious a-hole and blowhard even then, left the band, it became expendable, didn’t make it onto Notorious Byrd Brothers (on which it would have fit perfectly), and slipped through the cracks for umpteen years. It might’ve been on some Columbia singles compilation — dunno, I wasn’t buying rock albs by then. A couple years ago, when somebody sent me a pressing of Never Before on Re-Flyte, with “Lady Friend” (in “clear, true stereo,” i.e., brand new, historically ersatz stereo —Crosby himself helped Jim Dickson remix it) the last cut on side two, I played the whole thing once and mostly just huff-puffed about its messing with precious sonic documents. It wasn’t till they sent me the CD (on Murray Hill, whatever that is — the copyright says CBS Special Products) that I overcame my aversion to such messin’, or if I didn’t overcome it in principle, at least I didn’t have to encounter it, experience it, in A-B-C-D vinylsacred bulk, and — heck — a CD is a toy, so I played with it.

Picking/choosing this, trying/retrying that — hardly in earnest but fuggit — I halfassed my way through the mutha. Couldn’t work up much affection for the 45 version of ‘ 'Why” in true stereo, 'specially since I knew it so well (as B-side of “Eight Miles High”) in true mono, but the remixed “Lady Friend” was something I could deal with. Since I didn’t really know it from its first incarnation, certainly hadn’t memorized it, there was little chance (on a pure Sense Memory level) for me to be mortally wounded by any sonic renuancing, and I quickly warmed to the opportunity thus presented me: to hear/learn/get off on/be done with a time-coded (but not time-dispersed) genuine hot one for essentially the First Time. (The version of “Lady Friend” on The Byrds, the 90-tune, 4-CD box set from Columbia, might, for all I know — though I doubt it — be in original mono. But with so many wounds in the offing from even “remasters” of standard Byrds oeuvre — which if I had the damn thing in my hands I’d be tempted to play — I’m not about to risk even borrowing the fucker to find out.)

So I play it now, play it many times a day, haven’t tired of it yet though I know f’r sure I will, must, and each time I hear it MUCH is triggered that nothing else in my collection, my vast arsenal of sonic googahs, can match. Dunno or care why but it does: a recollective thought/feel package, gestalt, whose vivid components are rock qua music (a music to which I in fact have no present-tense allegiance, relationship), rock history, rock mystery, lost love, lust love, release from both bad love and the great chain of educational bondage & servitude, the finally (for a day) nonfetid air of coastal Connecticut, and somuchmore ... a flash on a day, a moment, five months before its release, in a miserable yet hopeful April when infinite Possibility was topically thinkable (compared to now when nothing is remotely possible, surely not in rock and roll, ha, any more than anything of even microworth is possible/thinkable on TV or in national — state — local — American politics or you name it), when the prospect of dealing with the draft loomed as a griefgrim ordeal and a half but in some ways a thinkable snap, when had I not soon fallen into the lovelorn trap of succumbing to e-z relationship I’d’ve been fucking ten thousand hippie chicks on DMT, when at bottom-line least goddam MUSIC (rock music) was a light still verymuch on in the World, a Torch held high!, mere seconds (as planet luck would have it) before flickering forever Out forever g'bye... all triggered by the replay of a SONG, a song in fact by — all critiques in — a somewhat topheavily (and less than multipurpose) Apollonian studio band that couldn’t play live to save its life ... pure joy!

BEFORE AND AFTER ROCK

The only time I ever really tried to speak to Charles Mingus, he snarled at me. It was at a Christmas party given by Changes magazine, for which I sometimes wrote — they paid $35 for features, $15 or maybe it was only $10 for reviews — and whose editor, publisher, whatever she was, Susan Graham, a quasi-stunning Older Woman (older than me) for whom I kind of had this wild hunger, and to manifest it once offered my palm as an ashtray only to recoil in reflex idiot disgrace, also managed Mingus, managed him well before she had anything to do with the crummy mag. The 17-minute “Sue’s Changes,’’ on Changes One, is his tribute to both her and the mag, though by the time it was released, ’75, the mag (if I recall right) was no more. Party must’ve been like ’72, ’73, she had him play piano and make eggnog, and he didn’t snarl much when I told him, “Great eggnog,” but did when I asked if what he’d just played was Monk’s “Ruby My Dear.’’ “No! it’s an original composition!” — it sure sounded like “Ruby My Dear’’ — snarled and I applaud him.

Ashes since ’79, Mingus was a great, great — all-time, world-class — truculent shithead; perhaps the loudest, and without doubt the most consistently interesting, of the mid to late century’s Last Angry Men; a toweringly great musician and man. Arguably the most significant innovator, if that’s the word, in jazz history whose most tangible innovations were not formalist in nature (or is he simply the most significant jazz artist to this minute whose alterations in the fabric of being weren’t principally formal?) (though of course he even was a formalist, an avantformal monster, hut tut tut), he is probably best viewed as, OK, I’ll list it: a Force of Nature, an élan vital, like Muhammad Ali or Babe Ruth; jazz’s single greatest footsoldier, a battler for every inch of turfs musical, social, ego-personal, transmammal-emotional, economic; a matchless drill sergeant too, lathering colleagues to a fine ferocity, driving them, prodding them, in countless cases, to the musical jagged-edge peak of their lives; one of only three bassplayers (the others: John Kirby, Oscar Pettiford) (if you want, throw in Charles Haden: four) to actually lead a consistently viable series of combos (of any size); the man who, at a time when hard-bop/funk excess had left the Duke in momentary eclipse, when even lame, anachronistic white bands were sponging more exclusively from Basie, made the world again Safe for Ellington; the sole purveyor of a ’50s funk variation to force the issue into overkill without overkilling (or even killing); a rare self-professed, as opposed to media-designated, satyr in life and art who could handle sexual overstatement as foreground without risk of corniness (bass as sexual correlative: hmm...okay); a master fomenter, and true appreciator, of Chaos (as both fount and destination); a more .thorough summer-up of ALL of jazz history — the entire haul as serviceably simultaneous — than any contemporary, including Monk, and even possibly the Art Ensemble of Chicago (who come directly out of Mingus anyway); first jazzperson per se to frontally acknowledge, musically, nonpejoratively, the coeval presence-on-earth of rock & roll (and I’m not talking R&B).

Which, this last point, is not at all to say he was into “fusion.” By the time of “Lady Friend," of psychedelic music and the late British Invasion, rock had become a dominant presence in more ways than sound. In terms of marketplace it was basically the official music in America, dislodging all else from the front and even middle of an evergrowing work-scrounge line, hogging the club scene, copping the lion’s share of recording contracts, the suddenly fatter advances, the only real promotion, airplay, etc. The late ’60s were a sad time to be a working jazz stiff in this country. Half in desperation cum windfall-wish, half from protodemographic savvy, Miles Davis, on the same label as the Byrds — not to mention Blood, Sweat and Tears — if for a decade longer, decided that if they could do it, he could do it, and he did: capital-F Fusion. But neither cynical Miles nor non-cynical survivalists like Ellington (who cut a less-than-fab “I Want to Hold Your Hand” for Ellington '66) and Basie (whose Basie on the Beatles had liner notes by Ringo) exactly understood rock and roll — it was simply another pop fad, the latest topical wellspring of “material’’ — certainly didn’t/couldn’t appreciate it as much more than consumer-friendly produce for young dolts. The only one who understood/appreciated rock qua rock was Mingus, and he’d been there for years. “Pithecanthropus Erectus” (’56), “Open Letter to Duke" (’59, reprising a riff from the ’57 “Nouroog”), and “Hog Callin’ Blues” (’61) are inconceivable without the euphoric whimwham, the A-to-Z insta-gallop, of early rock, of any rock...

And Mingus before rock?

Funny you should ask. ’Cause I’ve got this massive Mingus set a-sittin’ on my table if not my lap just begging to be reviewed — The Complete Debut Recordings from those jolly repackagers at Fantasy. TWELVE CDS: an act of extortion if ever there was one (sizable chunks’re separately available on 5 Original Jazz Classics CDs, a Prestige CD, and/or 10 in-print LPs, but if you want it all, or are a completist sap and must have it all, you’ll have to hold your breath — or shell out $153.70), but what the hey. ’S not even complete, an entire ’53 session’s been left off, but it is damn fucking, damn fucking valuable — if you’ve got none of it already, it’s worth every penny. Or even if you’ve got some or most in scratchy vinyl, hey, you might only be half neurotic to stare ahead at a dawn without turntables, in-whichcase to have the whole mess on CD would hardly seem that big a ripoff, more like an investment — although who knows, how long’s CD itself gonna last? (The choice is yours — me no shill.)

In any event: Mingus from ’51 to ’57, on a small, gallant label run by him, his wife Celia, drummer Max Roach, and Max’s gal Margo, playing/fomenting/recording (as both leader and sideman) precisely, as close as could be executed, what he as the world’s most demanding fuck bloody well wanted, or thought he wanted. There’s this great album he later did for Mercury, Pre Bird, consisting of material mostly written before he’d encountered Charlie Parker. By similar token, this could be subtitled Pre Rock. Let’s take a look.

Piano trios. Six of ’em. Spaulding Givens, an L.A. chum of C.M.’s who appears also in duet with him, isn’t toomuch more than a midrange cocktail tinkler (not here anyway). John Dennis, facile in a nonannoying Hampton Hawes sort of way, is listenable, and his tune "Seven Moons” is okay. The always fine Hank Jones only plays "You Go to My Head" — he’s fine. Paul Bley, in his U.S. studio debut, does a chordally interesting (i.e., "weird”) reading of "Walkin’ " and interesting (a/k/a complicated) takes on "I Can’t Get Started" and "Like Someone in Love"; on "Spontaneous Combustion” he is one hip, glib whiteboy — at least a hipper, more mobile (less chunky) Dave Brubeck. The underrated (and largely forgotten) Hazel Scott, probably, when on, the second greatest of female jazz pianists, is here (for the most part) very much on. The six trio cuts with Bud Powell, the greatest of them all, period, from the first half of the '53 Massey Hall concert also featuring Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Mingus and Max (more on which later), are way better, for my money, than any live transcriptions of Art Tatum, and just about up there with the hottest live Cecil Taylors. Through all of this, Mingus’s bass has a vivid mammal presence, his line often (always?) just a tad away from a full-bellied groan in much the same way early jazz trombone tended to slip into elephant-fart territory with no warning and no reason to warn. Roaring vegetables too — max wood-thunk from his ax qua wood. Makes it tough for even wimp piano players to sound, what’s the wd? ... effete. (Gotta be the piano-trio bassist.)

Bone city. Ninety-one minutes of continuous modern elephant farting somewhere in Brooklyn w/ J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Bennie Green, and Willie Dennis. Not exactly monotonous, but of interest more for the whacked-out monolithic concept than for actual prolonged sonic bravado. As writ and performed, Spaulding Givens’s "Trom-bosphere" is not half bad (& la lots of late-'40s "nightlife music"), but Mingus’s hepcat anthem "Chazzanova" is the real stopper. Plus: a four-song EP date (with four outtakes), previously available only in Denmark, by the greatest white trombonist after Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Knepper (whose last name, claim the liner notes, means "fuck" in Danish). Nice.

Massey Hall — with and without. Unlike Louis Armstrong, who rarely, once he’d gained full harness of his galaxy-shattering, universe-manifesting mettle, worked alongside more than one (at most two?) musicians at a time of even remote synoptic equivalence, Charlie Parker worked often with equal coconspirators, Massey Hall being perhaps the best example (certainly the most conspicuous evidence) on record. A great, great, great, great document of a great, great, great, great show. It may well be that the whole thing was released sometime somewhere without Mingus’s subsequent overdubs of his own bass parts — in listening to playback he’d found them largely inaudible — but if so (and nowhere in the package is any of it referred to as "previously unreleased’’), I’d never heard it until now. Finally hearing the nonoverdub incarnation could have been like hearing some new Bird for the first time, always a thrill, and with less unearthed newstuff all the time (he’s been dead since ’55) prob’ly the best new Bird in years. Could, but wurn’t — sounds about the same. (What the hey...)

Bass and cello. Of course you don’t have t’ play ’em all, but four dull takes (three previously unissued) of "Bass-ically Speaking," from the Massey Hall overdub session, are a tougher row to hoe than even the six takes of "Night in Tunisia" on the Complete Lennie Tristano CD on Keynote. Four cuts of Oscar Pet-tiford, Mingus’s direct link to Jimmy Blanton (the progenitor of modern bass — dead at 21 in ’42), on cello are not unbearable.

Lousy vocalists. Don Senay is dogfood, and his arrangements (by Alonzo Levister) are like a trip to the dentist circa ’55 — what he’d’ve had on the radio while drilling. The Gordons (Honey, Richard, George, George Jr.) are a wind-up paisley corduroy dog toy you wanna KICK. Bob Benton is a block of cork. Janet Thurlow isn't wretched. Jackie Paris’s “Make Believe" is “The Big Hurt" Goes Boho, and his “Paris Is Blue" is “Lush Life" Goes Straight (and Meets “One for the Road").

A good Miles session. A Miles session so unlike any other Miles session (trombone, vibes, no piano, Elvin Jones on drums) that, had it been on as widely distributed a label as Birth of the Cool (or even “Walkin’ ’’), it would probably have been of “seminal import." (Soon he would be on Columbia, where everything for awhile would have seminal import, even if — in spite or not of itself — as Makeout Music.) Pleasant “atmospheric" versions of “There’s No You" and “Nature Boy."

Early Thad Jones. My pick for most underrated trumpeter of the last 40 yrs. His ’60s-70s big band with Mel Lewis was really no great shakes, nor was his playing by then, and his work with Basie was competent though hardly remarkable, but he played some outstanding shit on Five by Monk by Five, three albums under his own name for Blue Note, and the two Debut sessions here, the earliest of the bunch and probably not the best — but still mighty fine.

Hours (and hours) of Jazz Workshop. About 2:45:00 from a ’55 Cafe Bohemia date and 1:00:00 from an unreleased '57 workout with the feel, no joke, of early Sun Ra (esp. the “untitled original composition" by Shafi Hadi). Hot licks, cold licks, all the dualities in an existentially untempered, experientially feasible nutshell: “freedom and discipline,” "violence and tenderness,” "agony and ecstasy,” "pathos and bathos" ... whatever.

Unused soundtrack for a Cassavetes film. Buncha guys banging on things and blowing whistles for seven minutes. The obvious precursor, both sonically and spiritually, to dozens of albums by members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music, the Black Artists Group, the Creative Musicians Improvisors Forum, etc., etc., and to hundreds (thousands!) by postdrugcrazed Euros and denizens of the Knitting Factory.

And that’s about it. On a scale of 0 to 100, I’d give the whole thing an 82. Or a 78. Let’s call it 80.

AFTER AFTER ROCK

And though Mingus’s influence on rock is of course negligible, '' Pithecanthropus Erectus” does make a phenomenal segue into (or from) “Third Stone from the Sun" by Jimi Hendrix. Jimi being more the Mingus of Rock than (as some heps would have it) the Coltrane?? Or some such horseshit.

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader

Comments

Log in to comment

Skip Ad
Close

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader