Charles Mingus: He Wants to Tell You A Story

29th December 2016

Title: The Clown

Label: Speakers Corner

Mingus was on a roll when this album was released in 1957. Coming, as it did, just a year after the glorious and extremely focused Pithecanthropus Erectus that exploded onto the scene. That album was filled with Mingus’ exasperation and outrage on the state of humanity. Mingus was focused on how we treat each other but he didn’t lose his focus as a leader, he continued to allow its players to express themselves.

This album continued that creative direction and took all of the musical qualities of the above but enhanced and improved upon it. This album is not a concept piece nor is it just a jam session with any old excuse for a series of headline solos. With each of the four tracks on this album, Mingus was aiming at a plot line with a conclusion. For example, the title track, told enthusiastically by Jean Shepherd, used a general narrative but allowed Shepherd to improvise upon that. That sense of improv is also taken up by trombonist, Jimmy Knepper who maintains that dissonant style behind the spoken words, keying into the modernist musical style but also providing a unpredictability of the essence of the clown which reinforces the narrative theme. It doesn’t take too much thought to see that the clown’s descent into bitterness because of the unsympathetic and cynical audience also has parallels in jazz itself.

Other highlights include Haitian Fight Song (in which Mingus performs splendidly) and Reincarnation of a Lovebird, which is a bit of a blast from the past, looking rather lovingly towards Charlie Parker. A quite stunning album that has been well produced and mastered by the label which, it has to be repeated, keep a welcome hands off in terms of imposing the modern onto the reissue. That is, you won’t find any company logos on the sleeve, bar codes or other modern ephemera, this is a honest-to-goodness reissue and relic to boot.