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Shades of Ellington
on March 9, 2001
Mingus was a great admirer of Duke Ellington and played in the latter's band until a notorious onstage fight with Juan Tizol. This album contains a variety of Mingus sounds, but much of the feeling is rooted in Ellington. This is especially true on "Song with Orange," "Things Ain't What They Used To Be," and, of course, "Mood Indigo."
The opener, "Slop (what a great title!)" is in the tradition of other aggressive blues/gospel inspired pieces like "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting," and "Better Git It Into Your Soul." There are some familiar Mingus motifs, but Mingus "owns" this kind of song--no one does it better.
"Diane" begins with some "classical" piano which is a little overly dramatic at times. However, three minutes into it, Roland Hanna breaks into a soft Bill-Evans like mode, with excellent brush- and cymbal-work by the always-magnificent Dannie Richmond. It's an ambitious, beautiful, piece and mostly successful. "Gunslinging Bird," (the full title, as Mingus states in the excellent liner notes, is "If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats"), seems to play Bird as one baad dude.
"Things Ain't What They Used To Be," (written by Mercer Ellington, Duke's son) is relatively straight ahead jazz and borrows elements from Ellington and Basie. The next two numbers are also fairly straight, but are a little disappointing: Except for an intriguing middle sandwiched between a "Sketches of Spain"-like arrangement, "Far Well, Mill Valley" is less challenging than the other cuts (as is also track 7, "New Now Know How.")
The CD closes strong with 3 great tracks: "Mood Indigo," with its great, driving piano and bass playing, the short, interesting "Put Me in That Dungeon," and "Strollin,'" which features vocals by Honey Gordon (sounding wonderfully similar to Ella). This cut was not on the original LP.
Mingus uses Hanna quite extensively on the album, and his contributions are enormous. Jimmy Knepper (trombone) and Booker Ervin (tenor sax) also shine, but really the entire lineup is excellent. ("Pithecanthropus Erectus," by the way, highlights Mingus' bass playing more than does "Mingus Dynasty.") This CD shows the Mingus dynamic within a large group format, and it gets better and better with every hearing. There are the original liner notes, plus additional notes by biographer Brian Priestley, and some excellent photos of Mingus playing and relaxing. Even if you're a Mingus fan with most of his CDs, this is a worthwhile addition.