Album reviews

Charles Mingus – ‘Mingus Three’ (rec. 1957, expanded reissue)

Charles Mingus – Mingus Three (expanded reissue)

(Rhino 603497841035 – album review by Mark McKergow)

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Friday 22 April 2022 marks the centenary of the birth of Charles Mingus, double bassist, composer, pianist, band leader, activist and one of the most important figures in jazz.  He and his music are not only key in developing the jazz tradition, but also spread beyond it; his collaborations with Joni Mitchell, ballet companies including Robert Joffrey, the surviving Mingus Orchestra and Big Band still curated by wife Sue Mingus, civil rights statements and position, fans including Keith Richards and Kenny Rogers, his autobiography Beneath The Underdog (still in print)… All these are evidence of a man who is very much still alive in his work and his inspiration.

In recognition of this anniversary, Rhino have re-released Mingus Three which finds the man himself in a New York City studio in 1957 with pianist Hampton Hawes and drummer Dannie Richmond. One of only three trio albums recorded by Mingus over his prolific career – the others were one from the early 1950s with Tal Farlow and Red Norvo, and Money Jungle with Duke Ellington and Max Roach from 1962. 

This is not a simple reissue; a whole set of out-takes has recently come to light by chance (in the London Parlophone vaults) and so there is nearly double the music to enjoy. The new version also includes a 12-page booklet of new sleeve notes by Mingus’ 1970s arranging partner Sy Johnson (who still works with Sue Mingus) alongside the original notes by Nat Hentoff.   

Hampton Hawes was a childhood friend of Mingus, a key bebop pianist who was on the crest of the awards wave in 1957. He struggled with heroin addiction for many years, being imprisoned in 1958 and released, almost miraculously, by John F Kennedy by presidential pardon in 1963.  His autobiography Raise Up Off Me (1974) won praise for its insider account of the jazz life. He died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage in 1977.  This was his only recording with Mingus. Dannie Richmond, by contrast, held down the drum seat in various Mingus groups for two decades; he and Mingus were starting their relationship around this time and Mingus clearly already appreciated Richmond’s sensitivity, ability to respond and flexibility with rhythm.

Those more accustomed to the fiery horn-riffing Mingus tunes of his later work (Mingus Ah Um is an album worthy of a place in ANY jazz collection) may find this a slightly puzzling set.  Four of the seven numbers are standards, and real standard standards at that. Two tunes are from Mingus (Back Home Blues and Dizzy Moods) while Hamp’s New Blues is a group jam.  The session was recorded in a single day, one suspects without much rehearsal given the head-arrangement style. However, jazz is an improvisational art form and it’s wonderful to hear these three class musicians making sense of the tunes together, as jazzers have been doing around the world since the music emerged.

The album opens with Yesterdays, boppish piano flourishes leading into a fairly rapid take on the tune with Mingus dropping out again for more Hawes flamboyancy.  Mingus’ arranger’s sense is an important element throughout the set, his knowing when to drop out, solo, change rhythm and so on means that this is much more than a ‘straight’ piano trio. Back Home Blues has Mingus leading the rootsy tune before flawlessly backing Hawes’ solo, then stepping forward again.  I Can’t Get Started starts beautifully (defying its own proposition) with the bass leading into the tune, superbly played over Hawes’ sparse chords and Richmond’s shimmering cymbals, with Mingus doubling the feel for his solo.

Hamp’s New Blues is a simple 12-bar which rollicks along with Richmond given solo space, and on this simple joyous number we again hear Mingus’ sense of dynamics coming into play as the mood ebbs and flows. Summertime is a highlight with bass riffing underpinning the tune before swinging into a walk with real momentum. It’s a very long way from the dreary jam session staple we find too often today.  Dizzy Moods, based on chords to Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody’N’You (and with Dizzy’s blessing) is the first version of the tune recorded so memorably on Mingus’ Tijuana Moods album (set down only days later but not released until 1962).  It’s taken at a loping pace, very recognisably a classic composition.  The set concludes with the ballad Laura, Mingus’ bass embroidering the theme statement in another masterclass of variety.

However, the show is not yet over! There are eight out-takes on the second CD, all numbers from the first set with a couple of blues thrown in.  These are not the kind of ’20 seconds breakdown when a reed squeaks’ fragments prized by Charlie Parker completists; they are mostly full takes which could well have made the cut but for (say) an ending not quite working out. I Can’t Get StartedDizzy Moods and Summertime are particularly good, while the first Untitled Blues effervesces out of the speakers. These are very much alternate versions of the tunes rather than scrap-heap seconds.

Mingus Three is a joy to revisit, a simple demonstration of the class of all three musicians back on 9 July 1957, and it’s Mingus’ sense of musical architecture which wins the day.  The album is available on LP and CD.

As a bonus contribution to the centenary celebrations, I’d like to offer a Mingus moment which may have escaped some of our readers. It’s from the 1962 movie All Night Long when Richard Attenborough, well before The Great Escape or Jurassic Park, walks into his party venue to find Charles Mingus picking away on the bass, addresses him as ‘Chas’ and then introduces him to Tubby Hayes (who plays with him on vibes) and the boys.  From 2:30 into the film / link below. Cheers, Chas!

CD Track Listing

Disc One: Original LP

1.                   “Yesterdays”

2.                   “Back Home Blues”

3.                   “I Can’t Get Started”

4.                   “Hamp’s New Blues”

5.                   “Summertime”

6.                   “Dizzy Moods”

7.                   “Laura”

Disc Two: The Outtakes

1.                   Untitled Blues

2.                   Untitled Blues – Take 2

3.                   “Back Home Blues” – Take 6

4.                   “Hamp’s New Blues” – Take 4

5.                   “I Can’t Get Started” – Take 1

6.                   “Yesterdays” – Take 2 (Incomplete)

7.                   “Dizzy Moods” – Take 2

8.                   “Summertime” – Take 3

Links: Mingus Three (expanded reissue) on Presto 

Charles Mingus & Richard Attenborough, All Night Long (1962 movie) 

2 replies »

  1. I urge those who buy this issue to also obtain a copy of “Raise up off me”, which is Hamp’s biography – co-authored with Don Asher. The story of how this record date came about is fascinating,, especially as Hamp reveals that Sonny Clark also contributed two ending chords on one of the tunes. That Hamp played as well as he did on the date is worthy of comment as he was, at that time, in a ‘slough of despond’ under the malign influence of drugs.
    Mike Davis – co-author with Roger Hunter of “Hampton Hawes – A Discography” (Manyana Publications, 1986) which included articles on Hamp by Alun Morgan and Don Asher and many rare photographs of Hamp with various musical contemporaries – Billie Holiday, McCoy Tyner, etc, etc. Our book is now long out of print but they occasionally appear for sale on Ebay and other sources.

  2. Hello. Nice review!
    You forgot to mention “Introducing Paul Bley”, a 1953 trio album with Mingus and Art Blakey. There are also some live trio recordings from the some year: Bud Powell’s “Inner Fires”, with Mingus and Roy Haynes, and the second part of the Massey Hall concert with Bud, Mingus, and Max Roach.

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