Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um (50th Anniversary Edition) ★★★★★

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Mingus Ah UmSony Legacy

Mingus (b, p) with various line-ups incl. Richard Williams/Don Ellis (t), Jimmy Knepper/Willie Dennis (tb), John Handy, Booker Ervin, Shafi Hadi (reeds), Horace Parlan/Roland Hanna (p) and Dannie Richmond (d). Rec. 5 May-13 Nov 1959

One of the distinguishing factors in Mingus’ 1959 recordings is that, unlike the five- or six-piece working groups of the previous few years, he was allowed to expand his personnel in the studio. That obviously includes Atlantic’s rough-and-ready Blues And Roots which, in a couple of tunes, functioned as an alternate version of Ah Um but which was not released for over a year. By then, Ah Um had made its impact, not least because of sidemen such as Knepper, Ervin and Handy – none of them “names” until chosen by Mingus – and, similarly, the great Richmond. Another factor in its success was a killer selection of nine tunes. A programme starting out with three remarkably different blues – ‘Better Git It In Your Soul’, ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ and ‘Boogie Stop Shuffle’ – could hardly fail to grab Mingus fans, but the performances were tight enough to convince many doubters as well.

This 50th Anniversary Edition actually contains a whole extra album, namely Mingus Dynasty – which means, incidentally, that nearly all of the previous triple-CD reissue of this material is included on the present double. This is where the trumpets were added. Though Michael Cuscuna’s reissue note observes that Dynasty’s short-term impact was less marked, in one way it’s even more impressive, especially with the writing involved in ‘Far Wells, Mill Valley’ and ‘Diane’ played by an 11-piece band with flute and vibes. But there’s also stuff such as ‘Song With Orange’ and ‘Gunslinging Bird’.

– Brian Priestley