1959, Music

Jazz Portraits: Mingus in Wonderland (1959)

I’m listening to this as part of a compilation which focuses primarily on Mingus’ earlier work in the mid 1950s and I have no idea why this particular live album was included, as it is from a while later both chronologically and artistically. (Licensing is always the answer to these kinds of questions.) At this point Mingus was getting much more ambitious as a composer and arranger but here he is with a five man band (down to four on one track). Much like some of his live albums in the ’60s, perhaps working in this sized group was good for him.

Much of what makes Mingus’ music from this time so distinct is the use of so many horns in a very unique way but that’s not (as) possible on a gig like this where there are only two horn players. This does make the band’s music sound a little more conventional compared to his studio stuff, but it also allows for more individual expression and for, I presume, different takes of this material. (Off the top of my head I am not familiar with these compositions of his, though.)

As others have noted, the band is full of some usual suspects, but I am so used to hearing these musicians in a larger group context it’s nice to hear them with a little more room. Because of his particular (not very nice) nature, Mingus never (or rarely) worked with actual jazz stars but the competence of these players was never in question. And it’s nice to hear someone like Richmond, who is one of the great drummers of his era, get more of a spotlight. The same is true of the others aside from Ervin, who I rightly or wrongly presume are also under-known. (Ervin is nearly as famous as any of Mingus’ sidemen ever got, right? Or is that just my ignorance talking?)

The music is compelling stuff, though hardly as alluring (to me), or as envelope-pushing as the stuff he was putting out through his studio albums around this time. It’s always nice to know the arranger can do things other than just tell other people what to do.


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