Charles Mingus ‘Mingus Ah Um’ 180g Vinyl (Jazz Wax) 5/5

From the iconic cover through to the music itself, everything about this album exudes sheer class. One of Mingus’ best ever line-ups featured Texan tenorist Booker Ervin, altoist John Handy and Shafi Hadi, trombonist Jimmy Knepper and a stellar cast of other musicians to boot. Perhaps in the pantheon of Mingus recordings, it is important to note that this was one of the first albums when a variety of self-penned compositions by the leader were aired in one concise project. These include the wonderful ‘Better ‘git it in your soul’, the original blues-inflected version of ‘Goodbye pork pie hat’ that would be covered by countless musicians (most notably a folk guitar interpretation from Bert Jansch and John Renbourn) and the immaculate ‘Fables of Fabius’ which has been covered almost as much as the previous aforementioned numbers. Mingus was clearly in reflective mood at the time and devoted a composition apiece to Jelly Roll Morton, ‘Jelly Roll’, and Charlie Parker on ‘Bird calls’. There may well have been a third homage on ‘Open letter to Duke’, but critics have subsequently cast doubt as to whether the duke in question was indeed Ellington, though in terms of big band influences the former was a seminal guide and inspiration for Mingus. The extensive original liner notes are befitting of the first album that Mingus would record for Columbia. This would form part of a duo during his short-lived residency for the label comprising also ‘Mingus Dynasty’ and came after the Atlantic recording, ‘Blues and Roots’. ‘Mingus Ah Um’ is quite simply a great place to start a Mingus collection.

Tim Stenhouse