Money Jungle

Release: 1962, Blue Note Records

Genre: Jazz/Post Bop
Line up: Duke Ellington – Piano,Charles Mingus – Bass, Max Roach – Drums

All Compositions by Duke Ellington
Session produced by: Alan Douglas
Produced for release by: Michael Cuscuna
Recorded at Sound Makers, New York City on September 17, 1962

Look at that lineup and gape; it is arguably the most stellar trio in the history of Jazz. Duke Ellington is the Duke; that I can say: the most important figure in American Music; with a straight face, is enough. Max Roach revolutionized bebop drumming, but then continued on to demonstrate a complete grasp of the instrument; And Charles Mingus? Well, lets imagine The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady in a fistfight with a Brandenburg Concerto… It may be able to stand up as one of the greatest pieces of music ever written.

So we have three Titans together in a recording studio, with no horn section to let off the steam; what do they produce? It’s almost as good as you hope it could be. Ellington is a superb pianist, here he demonstrates a total assimillation of the 1960’s style; evenly percussive and sensitive and effortlessly gliding between the two. The real fun on this album is to listen to the interplay between The Duke and Mingus. Mingus tries hard to tame himself, he’s playing against the man who famously fired him on stage for threatening band members with a gun, but he was never one for self control, so he plays simply enough to let The Duke control the melody, but he plays hard. The Duke on the other hand is trying to mix the beauty of his melody with the fire that the rhythm section is putting out, and as you would expect, he does it perfectly. What this really makes clear is that The Duke was anything but the spent force some have considered him to be in his later career. In sessions like this, such as the ones he shared with Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins, he was no musician staring into his setting sun, looking for the reflected glory of the youth, but a firebrand testing himself against the sharpest metal of the day. I have never heard a trio with this degree of presence; they tear through this music like a septet.

The pieces:

Money Jungle
Fleurette Africane
Very Special
Warm Valley
Wig Wise
Caravan
Solitude
Switch Blade
A Little Max (Parfait)
REM Blues
Backward Country Boy Blues

Alternate takes

Solitude
Switch Blade
A Little Max (Parfait)
REM Blues

Money Jungle is a thunderous opener, with some subversive bass playing from Mingus that threatens to derail the piece, but the melody is strong and the drum section is firm, showing that ride cymbal work that made Roach's name. Fleurette Africane is the opposite, a beautiful mild piece, emphasizing the Dukes total mastery of his instrument; it is haunting. Very Special is the moment the foot is put back on the accelerator, and Mingus and The Duke are dueling again. A little Max also deserves mention, as the piece where the egos get out of the way and Roach demonstrates that he can match anyone here, he only revolutionized jazz in his time. An essential recording.

If you own this record, one note of amusement is to look at Mingus's face on the front cover. That man scares the bejezus out of me, it looks like he's about to tear Max Roach's head off.

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