Good jazz is when the leader jumps on the piano, waves his arms, and yells. Fine jazz is when a tenorman lifts his foot in the air. Great jazz is when he heaves a piercing note for 32 bars and collapses on his hands and knees. A pure genius of jazz is manifested when he and the rest of the orchestra run around the room while the rhythm section grimaces and dances around their instruments.
Blues & Roots Charles Mingus
1. Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting 5:39
2. Cryin' Blues 4:58
3. Moanin' 7:57
4. Tensions 6:27
5. My Jelly Roll Soul 6:47
6. E's Flat, Ah's Flat Too 6:37
Blues & Roots was recorded on February 4, 1959 at the Atlantic Recording Studios in New York and released on April 4, 1960 on Atlantic Records. It was re-released in 1998, again on Atlantic/Rhino Records. The music was performed by Jackie McLean and John Handy on alto, Booker Ervin on tenor, Pepper Adams on baritone, Jimmy Knepper on trombone, Horace Parlan (tracks 1-5) and Mal Waldron (track 6) on piano, Charles Mingus on bass and Dannie Richmond on drums.
The album concept was originally conceived by his record producer as a response to critics who claimed that he didn't swing enough. Mingus responded "I thought it over. I was born swinging and clapped my hands in church as a little boy, but I've grown up and I like to do things other than just swing. But blues can do more than just swing. So I agreed." 1
The album is not one of Mingus's most ground breaking or amazing, but it's great fun. It's an attempt to highlight the gospel and blues beginnings of jazz in Mingus's distinctive style of composition. They were always there but in this album, they're showcased.
Blues & Roots begins with Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting. After the obligatory bass lead in, the horns evoke the feeling of being at a lively church service. It doesn't sound like regular call and response so much as it sounds like the altos screaming "Hallelujah" at the tenor with Mingus shouting and egging them on in the background. The song evolves and continues until midway through the song, when everyone but the drummer and alto player puts down their instruments to clap and moan along while Mingus shouts encouragements at the soloist. Aside from being an immensely energetic song, it displays the imaginative ways a truely inspired band leader can use hoarse shouting as comping as effectively as their instrument. Next is Cryin' Blues, a down tempo blues song followed by Moanin'. Moanin' starts with a baritone sax riff that the rest of the horns play around, through and over. The riff itself disappears for much of the middle of the song only to reappear and shape the ending. Next is Tensions, which has one of my favorite saxophone parts near the beginning. The saxophones are playing a basic pattern of increasingly higher and shorter notes, from half-notes to quarter notes to eighth notes to sixteenth notes. The feeling is simmilar to dropping a handful of ball bearings in a bath tub. As in Cryin' Blues, the theme is gone but not forgotten. It's explicated by the amazing bass and piano playing in the middle and reappears in the end. Next is My Jelly Roll Soul, a tip of the hat to Jelly Roll Morton. Lastly we have E's Flat, Ah's Flat Too. The intro bass line drags you straight in, where you're accosted by horns. After the saxophones work you over, the piano has a go at you and when he's finished he tosses you back to the alto. The tenor pulls him off you and you think you're saved until you realize that the tenor just wanted to stomp you without any interference. This goes on for six and a half minutes and when it's over, you can't stop tapping your foot and grinning. Which is as it should be.
1 Jazz: from its Origins to the Present, page 273