Selection: Pithecanthropus Erectus (Mingus)
Note: a little light crackle in background of quiet passages
According to Mingus’ liner notes (quoted by Wiki) the title song is a ten-minute four-chapter tone poem, depicting the rise of man from his hominid roots Upright Ape-Man to an eventual downfall due to “his own failure to realize the inevitable emancipation of those he sought to enslave, and his greed in attempting to stand on a false security.” Now there was me thinking it was just a great piece of music, turns out to be a PhD in social anthropology and a political polemic.
AllMusic adds: The piece is held together by a haunting, repeated theme and broken up by frenetic, sound-effect-filled interludes that grow darker as man’s spirit sinks lower…the whole thing seethes with a brooding intensity that comes from the soloist’s extraordinary focus on the mood. Or as we say here at LJC, Great! Same thing, fewer words.
Jackie McLean (as) J.R. Monterose (ts) Mal Waldron (p) Charles (not “Charlie” as here) Mingus (b) Willie Jones (d) recorded Audio-Video Studios, NYC, January 30, 1956; Recording engineers Tom Dowd/ Hal Lustig
Asked who was playing brass on this magnificent piece, from memory, I’d have to guess – wrong. Seeing the credits – McLean and JR Monterose caught me by suprise.
Chronology: Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956); The Clown (1957); Mingus Mingus Mingus (1957); Tijuana Moods (1957); East Coasting (1957;) Jazz Portraits (Wonderland) (1959); Blues and Roots (1959); Ah Um (1959); Mingus Dynasty (1959); Mingus Presents (1960); Reincarnation of a Lovebird (1960); The Black Saint and the Singer Lady (1963); Mingus 5 (1963); Mingus at Monterey (1965).
Glancing over the Mingus chronology in an earlier post I realised I had omitted one of the master’s earliest and greatest works. What’s to do? Should I Like Pithecanthropus on Facebook? Follow #Pithecanthropus on Twitter, download The Pithcanthropus App, play Call of Duty 4: Pithecanthropus? Or just play the damn record!
The post-war years found Mingus in the rhythm section of the greats, mastering the vocabularies of bop and swing, but the breakthrough came when PE established him as a leader/ composer, a fresh new voice with ambitiously modern ideas but firmly grounded in the great jazz tradition of Ellington. Mingus has noted this was the first album where he taught arrangements to his musicians by ear in place of writing everything down. The mix of structured and improvised playing is just perfect, the tunes nag like Monks’, dddlrllieeh, the pace and energy is irresistible.
Vinyl: Atlantic 1237( US Black label) Is this the first pressing? With so many smartypants around it’s a dangerous thing to claim. But I’ll make the claim. There are worse things in life than being taken down a peg. Though to think of it, not many.
Got to love that cover, laminated artwork on heavy card, it’s a pure joy the downloaders will never know.
Source: London record shop
Browsing online I stumbled on a seller who identified themselves as a record shop in South East London I had never heard of, more inner-city than my usual orbit, who claimed to have a copy of PE on original Atlantic at a very fair price, something I had been looking for a long time.
Next morning I boarded to local bus service, travelling incognito, so as not to draw attention to myself, humming under my breath Get up, get up, stand up, get up ..err.. stand up… umm… sit down, don’t give up your seat …How does it go again?
Entering the shop I realised why I had not been here before. The jazz section was tiny, mainly 1980’s reissues, and worse – lots of fusion. Nothing collectible, and no copy of Mingus PE. I asked the manager, had they advertised a copy of Mingus PE? The manager, who turned out to be French, spoke a heavily-accented form of English common to recently arrived language students, a lingo I call “‘ow you say?” a phrase which punctuates every other sentence. Quite different from the local argot here, in which every sentence finishes with the question – You know what I mean? (rhetorical, of course)
“Mingus”? I mimed the upright bass. “Pithecanthropus…” Probably best not to go down that road, I thought. Could be taken the wrong way, international insult. No need. Instant recognition! The Basement, one minute! and promptly disappeared, returning with a beautiful laminated cover in hand. Tipping the record from its sleeve, I inspected the vinyl closely under a 150 watt bulb…only joking. Fairly clean, not perfect, a few scuffs and marks, will have some background crackle, but an acceptable VG positive. Bonding a little, I asked where in France he was from. The South – we had interests in common, and yes, he missed the sun. And for cash? I asked. He took a fiver off without blinking.
Merci monsieur, bonne journee! I was certainly going to have one, now, you know what I mean?
[Photos updated to modern standard October 8, 2016]