Charlie Mingus

When the great roll of American jazz composers is called, the late Charles Mingus (1922-79) will be near the tip-top. Mingus was and remains unique in that he drew on the entire jazz tradition for inspiration along with European classical music and the speaking-in-tongues zeal of the Holiness Church. The artists who've dared interpret Mingus include Joni Mitchell (who, in fact, collaborated with him), Jeff Beck, and Elvis Costello. In the '50s, Mingus even anticipated aspects of 1960s free jazz, and here's the proof. Tijuana Moods was recorded in 1957, originally released in '62, and reissued this year with its original, slightly sexist cover art and one bonus track. It's one of Mingus' finest albums — as a leader, he drives his combo into passages of orgiastic frenzy, then into sleek, urbane lyricism. As composer, Mingus melds Mexican motifs (some a bit clichéd, but what the hell) into a savory stew with a bebop base that's brimming with passionate and wistful melodies and zesty swing. No big names here save for longtime drummer Dannie Richmond and trombonist Jimmy Knepper (who once received some free dental work courtesy of Mingus' knuckles), but it's big-boss jazz all the same, all the way.


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