1956, Music

Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956) by Charles Mingus

According to everything I’ve read, the is the first studio album where the Charles Mingus every knows and loves first emerged. He had been a leader on a number of releases prior to it but it’s this record, and particularly its title track, where his unique fusion of music from bop (and earlier) with musical ideas from other art music traditions first really took shape. As with most musicians, I have managed to listen to Mingus’ later, far more ambitious music first, so the effect of this is a little lost on me compared to how it would have been to people in 1956.

But everything people say about the title track is true. Ignore the “plot” – programmatic music rarely lives up to its ambitions anyway – this is just an incredibly dynamic and powerful piece of music that likely sounded extremely fresh and exciting when it came out. It’s easy to imagine other jazz musicians, especially younger ones who didn’t remember the genres origins, thinking “Wait, we can do that?”

And not all of it as pretentious as the title track, as a “A Foggy Day” is arguably nearly as programmatic but far more fun while being enough of a finger in the eye of the establishment to feel fresh as well. (No, I did not realize it was a cover when I wrote this.)

“Profile of Jackie” is fine but the other track I really enjoy is “Love Chant”. Though hardly of the calibre of the title track, this is still a fascinating piece, which ebbs and flows, and which features some of what would become Mingus’ trademark horn writing. It’s a pretty good example of Mingus thinking outside the box simply by being aware of what came before him.

I don’t know this one was well as some of his later records, yet, but I can see why it’s considered the beginning of his prime period and I believe it will soon become one of my favourite Mingus albums – if not among my absolute most favourite – for at least its opening and closing tracks.


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