Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um (Legacy Vinyl Re-Issue)

Label: Sony Legacy

Released: September 16, 2008 (originally released in 1959)

"Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."
 - Charles Mingus

These aren't just words from Charles Mingus. He didn't always manage to make things simple, but one of the many amazing things about Mingus Ah Um is that he took this incredibly challenging jazz, in perhaps its creative heyday, and made it as easy as pop music. That's not to say that he dummied it down. He didn't. He did exactly what he said, made the the complicated awesomely simple. What that means is that it's as easy as a pop record, but the ride is as fascinating and wild as Mingus' later more "difficult" albums. Pop stars of the day, like Sinatra or Nat King Cole, were pleasant, easy to digest artists while guys like Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane were pushing the limits of music as it was known at the time. Mingus Ah Um doesn't split the difference between those two schools, but rather fully accomplishes the goals of both, something that may not have happened again in popular music until Revolver and Sgt. Pepper almost a decade later. It set a standard for pop music to explore, to be avant-garde, and rock music in particular owes a tremendous debt to that spirit.

As great as Mingus Ah Um is, I've only ever heard it on CD until now. Legacy Recordings has re-issued this classic on 180 gram vinyl and it's like hearing the album for the first time. Its already abundant warmth is warmer and the sound more natural. If you own the CD, this is the perfect time to pick up the vinyl and really hear it the way it was meant to be heard.

Satriani: 10/10
Zappa: 10/10
Dylan: 10/10
Aretha: 10/10
Overall: 10/10

If you're curious about my rating categories, read the description.

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Blogger taotechuck said...

I think Dream Theater really picked up the spirit of Mingus and ran with it. Frankly, they're the heir to the Mingus throne. Nobody else even came close, except maybe Dragon Force. Not Satriani, though. He's way more like Ornette Coleman.

I was hoping to review Ah Um at Pratt Songs, but the EPFL doesn't have a copy. I'm going to head over there tonight and check out their other Mingus, but none of his other albums accomplish quite the same thing as this one. Which is not to say he doesn't have other great albums; there just aren't any others that are exactly this flavor of great.

Sgt. Pepper's is actually a remarkably astute comparison. Well done, Bobbo!

5:10 PM  
Blogger The Mad Hatter said...


I gave this an A- awhile back because I don't think it's perfect, but it's still frickin' amazing. That and you're much more objective in your reviews than me; I kind of give a grade based on my personal opinion rather than its inherent value to others, so I completely respect the 10s across the board.


Ok, I'm not as deeply embedded, I think, on Ornette Coleman as you are, and it's taken me probably a good year to listen to him since Bob recommended him off of a Volta review, but Satriani? Satriani hasn't a smidgen of soul and is complete virtuosity; Coleman ain't no slouch, for sure, but comparing him to Satch? I don't get it.

5:56 PM  
Blogger bob_vinyl said...

It's a tough call on perfect albums. I don't know my ratings even address perfection. Is a 10 actually perfect or just kind of the maximum humanly possible? I don't know. If there aren't actually perfect albums, there are some that come really, really close and I'd put Mingus Ah Um.

So, how does it feel to be caught in Chuck's Satriani trap?

10:57 PM  
Blogger The Mad Hatter said...

Trap? I don't get it. Or maybe I haven't escaped yet ...

But yeah, this one is a doozy. Black Saint & Sinner Lady is intermittently brilliant to me, but I have to be in the right mood for it.

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Woody said...

Black Saint & The Sinner Lady stands alone as such an incredible record. You really can't compare anything else to it.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Oh, I hate when people list Satch as one of the greatest guitarists ever. He's like Dragonforce. Sure you can play incredibly well, but it all sounds so heartless and void of any meaning. I'll take a decent guitarist who plays with soul any day over the shredding technical wizard who plays to wow people with his skill.

10:06 AM  
Blogger bob_vinyl said...

Now that Jeff has also fallen for Chuck's joke, I think it's time to let everyone know that he's kidding.

I totally agree that Satriani is a waste of technical skill. Dragin Force and Dream Theater aren't far behind either.

Jeff, I'm totally with you on sacrificing technical skill for emotion. The former can never make up for the latter.

10:17 AM  

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