Charles Mingus The Clown Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

An underrated gem from the greatest jazz bassist of the lot.

Peter Marsh 2004

It's a fact of life that some records get all the attention. We like masterpieces, the big statements; Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, Bitches Brew. Records that seem to spring out of sudden flashes of inspiration. With Mingus, the albums generally considered as his best are the ones that are most consistent; Pithecanthropus Erectus, Blues & Roots, Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. While these are undoubtedly fantastic, that leaves a lot of other records that while not exactly having fallen by the wayside, are worthy of more attention.

The Clown is one of those. Recorded in 1957 (but unreleased till 1961), it's notable for the first appearance of three classic Mingus tunes; "Haitian Fight Song", "Reincarnation of a Lovebird" and (here on this newly expanded edition) "Tonight at Noon". Several regular Mingus alumni are featured - the ever present Dannie Richmond on drums, Jimmy Knepper on trombone, Shafi Hadi on alto and tenor saxophones, plus pianist Wade Legge.

Throughout his life, Mingus remained devoted to both the bop and the blues; distrustful of the avant garde and those who went electric, his music was a hard-won exploration of the possibilities left in both, delivered with passion and intensity. "Reincarnation of a Lovebird" proves that those who know history aren't necessarily doomed to repeat it. The opening collage of bop phrases and quotes sounds startlingly contemporary, while Hadi's soaring alto flights resonate with Bird's easy grace. Meanwhile, Mingus and Richmond lay down a fat, bluesy swing, or chop things up with a razor sharp precision that left most contemporary rhythm sections in the shade.

"Haitian Fight Song" opens in typical style with a solo statement from the bass, then proceeds to take the roof off in an urgent display of call-and-response riffing and dark, insistent rhythmic interplay.Jazz doesn't get much better than this. The inclusion of these two pieces plus the explosive, high speed swing of "Tonight At Noon" (from the same original sessions) make this an essential purchase.

The title track is one of Mingus' spoken word experiments - an improvised tragi-comic narrative from beat poet Jean Shepherd set to a lugubrious feature for Knepper. Your mileage may vary, as they say. "Blue Cee" is (guess what) a blues in C which goes nowhere much, but even at his patchiest, Mingus is always worthy of your time...highly recommended.

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