Charles Mingus (1959)
This album came out at a pivotal time for jazz, after it had experienced a surge in popularity with cool and swing earlier in the decade, and right when a second revolution had arrived. Bop and non-modal experimentation refined the genre’s core audience to hipsters, Europeans and aesthetes, while the more traditional and successful forms influenced rock and folk going forward. Charles Mingus was an unconventional bassist and bandleader who dipped a toe into a variety of different subsets of the genre. Ah Um surely must be his compositional peak, being as it is a masterpiece.
It consists of exceptional modal structured jams, representing a bunch of diverse sub-styles and boasting terrifically memorable themes and moods. Even the soloing is discrete, textured and democratically split between the eight players, each of them very professional and tasteful. There is a lot of interesting interplay here, and even some meaningful context behind the pieces themselves. Importantly, it’s emotionally vivid, sonically dynamic and entertaining the entire way through, and especially for a double album with some stretches of free jazz, that’s an incredible achievement. In addition to its broad influence on bass playing and the genre as a whole, Mingus Ah Um is an extremely balanced, populist blend of everything you could want from a jazz record.
Key track: “Fables Of Faubus”