Charles Mingus, Let My Children Hear Music

The year was 1971, and some might argue jazz had run out of steam. 1959 changed it from its golden years, the 60s solidified the modal and took off running with many different movements. Eight years before, Mingus' had mastered the art of orchestral jazz on The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. This album brought together the stylistic realm of Duke Ellington with new, avant-garde textures. Here, he was crystallizing a sound he began with his big band, Mingus Dynasty on their self titled album.

At the time of the albums release, Mingus had taken grate strides since Black Saint, but still had ways of reaching back into his old catalog and updating for the better. "Don't Be Afraid, the Clown's Afraid Too," for example, interpolates his 1957 sextet recording The Clown. Personnel wise, Mingus tastefully used heavy hitters from his past small groups such as the extremely versatile rhythm section of pianist Jaki Byard and drummer Dannie Richmond. These two, Mingus on bass, a host of brass players; over 20 playing everything from French Horn and Tuba to Trumpet and Trombone, and tasteful clarinet, sax, and flutes could pretty much play any style of arrangement, and better still change in and out of styles on the drop of a hat. Dynamics can be noticed immediately in "Taurus in the Arena of Life," during the swells of brass, flutterings of flute, and piano outro on "Adagio Ma Non Troppo," and the funk-swing of "Hobo Ho" are perhaps the most recognizable.

Mingus seemingly echoes his physical presence on each and every track. There are so many layers to cut through. "The Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers" innvocates the listener like Buzzard Song of Porgy and Bess and then enters a section of ups and downs with each weaving an impressive rhythm, or taking a solo, and then switching back and forth. This mesh of sound eventually enters one of the most passioned swing sections ever recorded. "Jive Ass Slippers" is a force to be reckoned with and it is dizzying how much Mingus packed into a swing composition.

"Adagio Ma Non Troppo" departs further into a more Third-Sream sounding piece. It would fit just as easily in with Ennio Morricone or Bernard Herman as it would with Jimmy Guiffre
or Gil Evans. In just over 7 minutes, Mingus dips us in and out of many different moods, not only masterfully using each instrument in the right place, but using each instrument's abilities and limits to their fullest. The track is very cinematic, painting a picture and inciting moods. Another selection is "Taurus in the Arena of Life," which was not added until the albums CD release in 1992. It begins with sophisticated, classical Baroque piano and is quickly bounced out by a melancholy swing piece peppered with a Spanish dance at :40 and a second, this time more frantic at 2:45. The albums two final tracks are noticeably darker, "The Chill of Death" sounds very big and murky. Over the muted trumpet and deep, fierce brass attacks Mingus recites a terrifying poem of fate, perhaps commenting on his own he had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's and by the mid-1970s would be unable to play the bass. The songs second half is a terrifying march into the unknown with the lowest of brass lining the trail and woodwinds popping out at unknown junctures. Pockets of this song sound a lot like Ornette Coleman's compositions with Howard Shore, likening it further to film. "The I of Hurricane Sue" is a tantalizing free-jazz/swing attack. After a sample of wind and rain, the entire orchestra seemingly comes out of the storm into the "eye" and becomes more structured and rigid. As if only Mingus could rope in an orchestra in such a situation, the piece commonly brings back the wind sound and is freed for a second, but then is re-assured into the swinging melody once again. With the piano keeping the feel of the "storm" coming in and out, our vast array of players take turns soloing, dodging the frantic collapses of rhythm during the interludes. Finally, the orchestra is seemingly sucked back into the passing storm, but manages to conclude the piece as a last gasp before the wind and waves re-enter the stage.

After the Columbia recording sessions in early '71 Mingus thanked Teo Marcero for "his untiring efforts in producing the best album I have ever made"and on his deathbed he sent many letters from his Mexican home to co-arranger and session tuba player Sy Johnson hailing his last Columbia release as his favorite ever. Let My Children Hear Music within Mingus spread, with its many facets and examples of genius, transcends to a level of musical versatility that we may never hear again.


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