I was lucky that when I was very young and casting about for "real jazz" to listen to I stumbled upon Miles, Trane, Monk....and Charles Mingus. I was absorbed by it all, and had much to learn from it, but Mingus (Blues & Roots
was the first for me) seemed like familiar territory because my dad had Ellington records and I heard them. But then there was something else very different that was pure Mingus. And I took to it right away.
Years later I was at Berklee (1971-2) and teaching there was a guy named John LaPorta. I knew nothing of him except by then he was to me some old guy and what did I care? Then I found out he had been in an early Mingus band and so I tracked down the LP. The music originally was on two ten-inch LPs on Period Records, both titled Jazzical Moods. A few years later it all came out on one 12-incher under the title The Jazz Experiments of Charles Mingus, on Bethlehem Records. Both labels were long defunkt by the time I made my rounds of the Boston record stores, and in fact the album, whole or in pieces, was reissued a good number of times by the end of the vinyl era, in remasters of wildly varying quality. No matter. I found a copy in some guise and listened. . . and grew to like it very much.
The sides were recorded in December of 1954 so this was one of Mingus's very first releases. It was one of the first Jazz Workshop outfits and a pretty unusual combination of Mingus on bass and piano (overdubbed), John LaPorta on clarinet and alto, Teo Macero (later famed jazz producer at Columbia) on tenor and baritone, Thad Jones on trumpet, Jackson Wiley on cello and one Clem DeRosa on drums. They do some excellent Mingus originals, one co-written by John LaPorta, a LaPorta number, and standards arranged by Mingus or LaPorta. The entire session, as on the Bethlehem label, has just been reissued from the analog master tapes as part of what I presume will be the mass-resurrection of the Bethlehem sides.
And so this one is very much available again. The fact that "experiments" was part of the Bethlehem-issued version is no accident. For this was a period where bop combined with compositional, even classical elements in some of the jazz at the time. It was part of the "cool school" which Miles Davis had much to do with initiating on his Capitol Birth of the Cool sides from the beginning of the decade. The music had a heavily arranged component most of the time and featured some advanced compositions as well.
This Mingus album loosely fits into that mode, though with Mingus on bass it swings more so than most outfits of the type and most certainly nothing comes off as anemic, a charge critics levelled at this and other musics associated especially with the West Coast. As much as I appreciated the hard-swinging hard bop that came out in reaction to the coolness of cool, I also pretty early on became long tired of the polemic that formed around the this-or-nothing stance of the later '50s. Mingus reacted to his critics by swinging about as hard as anyone could by then without simply exploding, almost as a caricature of what was expected, which was a part of the complexity of Mingus and his relationship to the world outside of himself.
But if you listen to this album you will hear some excellent music, polemic or no. "Minor Intrusions" is a Mingus classic, certainly. The whole album to my mind still comes across well, daring at times for the time, and always excellent musically. Solo-wise nobody is slouching either.
And it's great to have the original-tapes remaster to linger over now.