Charles Mingus, Mingus Dynasty
A deeply rewarding mix of chamber music, bop, thorny romanticism and gospel soul
The second, and final, album Charles Mingus recorded for Columbia in 1959 is a contrast to the first, Mingus Ah Um, emphasizing the composer side of his personality over the jazzier impulses — although the split isn't really that radical. Pieces like "Song With Orange," "Far Wells, Mill Valley" and "Diane" have passages that sound more like chamber music than bop, which is very much in line with what Mingus intended. As if to drive the perception home, there are two pieces here by his model/idol, Duke Ellington, "Things Ain't What They Used To Be," and (get the tar and feathers ready, Ellington fans) what may be the greatest recording ever, by anyone, of "Mood Indigo." It's one of Mingus 'defining moments, as one by one the soloists untether themselves from the pulse of the piece, with Mingus and drummer Danny Richmond keeping them from floating away, to explore the many melodic and harmonic possibilities it provides. Of particular note are John Handy's hommage to Ellington's original altoist, Johnny Hodges, and Roland Hanna's very un-Dukish piano solo. A thorny romanticism pervades the chamber-like pieces here, while the gospel-soul-jazz pieces which bookend the album, "Slop" and "Put Me In That Dungeon," remind us of where it all came from. ("Strollin'" is a previously-unreleased vocal piece not on the original). Mingus Dynasty is a dense, intellectual album, but don't let those words put you off: it's also deeply rewarding, and a cornerstone of the career of one of midcentury's greatest American musical talents.