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Pithecanthropus Erectus

4.6 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Audio CD, October 25, 1990
$19.99 $0.57

Editorial Reviews

One of the great figures in modern jazz, bassist Charles Mingus was the ultimate triple threat: a master of his instrument, a jazz composer of the first rank, and an insightful leader of a series of extraordinary and incendiary bands. Raised in Los Angeles, Mingus was a devotee of Duke Ellington, whose compositional style had an unsurpassed effect on the young composer. As a player, however, Mingus was drawn to his contemporaries, who included Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, and Max Roach (indeed, Roach and Mingus co-owned their own Debut Records during the '50s). Perhaps his greatest contribution was bridging the gap between those two generations: in Mingus's music, one could always explicitly hear the continuity between the big bands and the bebop era, the affinity between the romantic and the modern. Although he had recorded extensively for numerous labels including his own Debut Records, Mingus's relationship with Atlantic would yield many of his greatest recordings. Cut in 1956, Pithecanthropus Erectus was his first date for the label, and it provided something of a breakthrough for Mingus in his use of extended compositions: the 10-minute title track, and the lovely "Profile of Jackie," are among the bassist's finest recordings. The band is notable for the inclusion of the under-recorded tenor saxophonist J.R. Monterose. --Fred Goodman
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (October 25, 1990)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Atlantic
  • ASIN: B000002I7U
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,018 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
This is a showcase for Mingus the bassist as well as Mingus the composer. His sound is recorded extremely well, and his technique, sense of rhythm, and improvisation are just astonishing. I've never heard his bass so well before.
He begins the title cut with a 4-bar motif that's almost as compelling as "A Love Supreme." He works this motif with virtuosity, and he is especially effective in his interplay with the pianist, Max Waldron. While some may see this as a harbinger to free jazz, it's really quite accessible, and the "wild" sounds return logically to the theme. Emotionally gratifying; it's one of his best works.
The big disappointment here is "A Foggy Day (in San Francisco)." Mingus places various urban sound effects, which "The Penguin Guide to Jazz" calls superficially jokey." To me, it's just simply annoying. The repeated taxi horn sounds, etc. are just done too often. Were it not for the overall quality of the other music, I'd take away a * from this CD. Foggy Day does feature some nice sax work (Jackie McLean, J.R. Monterose), swinging bass, and some whistle blowing a la 70's and 80's funk. (Was Parliament listening?).
"Profile of Jackie" is a brief (3:07) mood piece, McLean nicely interpolates "Chelsea Bridge" and his playing is soulful and sharp. It's a beautiful ballad with nice comping by Mingus, and Willie Jones' deft touch on drums.
Love Chant is the longest piece here (14:56) and, I think, is overlooked in the Mingus discography. There's some very progressive bass work propelling an initially slightly cool jazz/modal sound. The first third features interesting percussive effects, effective abstractions on the piano, and mellow tones on the horns.
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Format: Audio CD
"Pithecanthropus Erectus" is in the opinion of many (and rightly so), the first Charles Mingus masterpiece. It is on this record I really felt the "Mingus sound" began to coalesce-- that sort of playful jazz filtered through gospel and a big sense of humor sound he had, generously supported by a band that was more than capable of bringing his vision to life (including Jackie McLean blowing alto like he's got something to prove and pianist Mal Waldron).

The album's four tracks (about forty minutes of music) are each classics in their own right-- three Mingus originals and one Gershwin standard ("A Foggy Day"). All four feature fantastic arrangements, in particular the Gershwin piece that finds Mingus at his most inventive-- tenor sax fog horns, alto siren wails, scratching basses, slide whistles and so on. But in between these excursions is a fantastic swing and a monster bass solo. But as good as this is, its probably the title track that's best known-- a difficult, start-stop rhythmic piece with bizarre tempo changes and fierce group improvisation, its justifiably considered one of the greats in Mingus' catalog. The remaining two tracks ("Profile of Jackie" and "Love Chant") are no slouches either-- the former features a brilliant, wailing theme stated on alto, the latter starts as a rolling piano ballad before breaking into a fierce swing for the solo sections.

In all, a great album of Mingus' music. I'd start with "Mingus Ah Um", but this may be where to look next. Essential.
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Format: Audio CD
While the musical content of this album is excellent, the mastering of this CD is, unfortunately, quite poor. The volume level of the CD is suprisingly low for a compact disk, perticulerly in light of the number of wonderfully remastered CD editions avalable for other Mingus albums on Atlantic, such as Oh Yeah!, and Blues and Roots. Pithecanthropus Erectus is a great record that sorly needs a more acceptable sonic representation than the current Atlantic edition (ATL 81456) is capable of. It would deffinitally be worth the effort of checking for a newer version of this album before purchesing this one, which is quite simply not up to par with the standerds set by other recent jazz re-issues.
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Format: Audio CD
I'll never forget hearing this album at age 6, even for my newly forming mind it was one of the most overwhelming, strange, sometimes scary but ALWAYS interesting and compelling experiences, between the melody lines that stick in your head for days, the wit, the dynamics and everything else.

Years later, it STILL has that same effect on me, only now I can get my brain around it!

The epic length title cut is a 3-part musical depiction of the rise and fall of a fictitious species of human. It's amazing to me how Mingus and his chosen musicians were able to convey so much vivid emotion and narrative with just sounds and no visuals or words.

"A Foggy Day--" lightens the mood a bit with the musicians producing sirens, foghorns, taxi horns, groaning boats and much more, some may find it annoying but this Owl actually finds it oddly charming in this particular instance.

"Portrait of Jackie" is a very brief but very potent vehicle for Jackie McLean to spin forth his unique alto sound and beautiful melody lines.

"Love Chant" can STILL hold me in rapt attention between its insistent low-register piano figure by Mal Waldron and the horns alternating playful and somber lines, with WIllie Jones just playing his butt off

All throughout, Mingus himself asserts his simultaneously gruff and humourous muse through his bass, NOBODY sounded like him before or since.

Want a good place to start with Mingus, I highly recommend this!

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