The tenth of Jon Turney’s weekly selection (introduced HERE), a salute to a great Ellingtonian.
This is Mingus’ great, late quintet, in a recording that stands among his best work. His indispensable drummer, Dannie Richmond, had come back, encouraged by the earlier recruitment of the pan-stylistic George Adams on tenor, Don Pullen on piano and joined by the young Jack Walrath on trumpet.
Small group work best conveys the essence of Mingus’ music: he was never quite the orchestrator he wanted to be. And this was its final flowering. There are stupendous, complex pieces here like Sue’s Changes, which twists and turns for 17 minutes. But also Sy Johnson’s simple threnody for Ellington’s faithful baritone player, Harry Carney.
It’s a slow blues, riding on a six-note bass figure doubled on the piano. Each of the soloists – Adams, Pullen, Walrath, Mingus – begin in dialogue with Richmond, using mallets, then raise the intensity a notch as the bass comes back in. In a group that could deliver extended exultation, the four, and the drummer, maintain the elegiac mood while still displaying their contrasting styles.
I’ve always had a hankering to hear how this band sounded live. Now, in one of those odd, delayed surfacings from radio archives, we know. The concert at Bremen in 1975, playing mostly the Changes repertoire, yielded a magnificent two hours of music. The version of For Harry Carney there follows the same arrangement. The soloing is brilliant again, but for me this beautifully concise studio reading is still this little tune’s definitive treatment.
LINKS: Listen on Spotify