Label: Sony Legacy
Released: September 16, 2008 (originally released in 1959)
– Charles Mingus
These aren’t just words from Charles Mingus. He didn’t always manage to make things simple, but one of the many amazing things about Mingus Ah Um is that he took this incredibly challenging jazz, in perhaps its creative heyday, and made it as easy as pop music. That’s not to say that he dummied it down. He didn’t. He did exactly what he said, made the the complicated awesomely simple. What that means is that it’s as easy as a pop record, but the ride is as fascinating and wild as Mingus’ later more “difficult” albums. Pop stars of the day, like Sinatra or Nat King Cole, were pleasant, easy to digest artists while guys like Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane were pushing the limits of music as it was known at the time. Mingus Ah Um doesn’t split the difference between those two schools, but rather fully accomplishes the goals of both, something that may not have happened again in popular music until Revolver and Sgt. Pepper almost a decade later. It set a standard for pop music to explore, to be avant-garde, and rock music in particular owes a tremendous debt to that spirit.
As great as Mingus Ah Um is, I’ve only ever heard it on CD until now. Legacy Recordings has re-issued this classic on 180 gram vinyl and it’s like hearing the album for the first time. Its already abundant warmth is warmer and the sound more natural. If you own the CD, this is the perfect time to pick up the vinyl and really hear it the way it was meant to be heard.
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