Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, April 01, 2007

I listened to Mingus’s magnificent Oh Yeah today and I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten to include him in my post of six months ago about singer-songwriters from the worlds of jazz and pre-rock mainstream pop. Mingus has been a Top Dude for me since high school -- how could I forget him! Such a tuneful and texturally complex and rhythmically exciting and structurally unique composer! Such a great band leader; of course a great bassist, probably my Favorite All Time on the instrument; and, on this album, a lively pianist -- and, here especially but elsewhere as well, a great singer. Of the three songs-with-lyrics, “Oh Lord Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me” is powerful, frightening, sardonic, funny, wild; “Eat That Chicken” ditto, somehow, and a send-up/homage of the minstrel tradition; only “Devil Woman” doesn’t strike me as a wonderful song, though the music is. But the album’s most thrilling vocal performance is the repeated, incantatory, ecstatic exclamations of the album’s title on the gospel-ly “Ecclusiastics” -- hair-raisingly powerful.

My all-time favorite Mingus vocal, though, is on the original recording of “Haitian Fight Song,
from 1957, an accompanied canon in which the third part, accompanying the lead trombone and the following sax, is Mingus’s screaming-in-tune wailing-trumpet voice. In later big band arrangements, trumpets do indeed sing Mingus’s vocal line.

A book could be written about Mingus’s song “Original Faubus Fables”. Maybe I’ll talk about why another time, but I have other things to do tonight. Suffice to say, if you don’t know the album it is from, which I just linked to, and which features the amazing Eric Dolphy, I can’t recommend it too highly.

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Further thoughts about
Music and Lyrics, the romantic musical comedy I posted on last night: It's not an old-school music in that nobody bursts into song -- all of the songs are being performed within the context of the story. Nothing wrong with that, just thought I'd mention it. What is old-school about the show is the rapid wit. The depiction of the "hit song" the main characters write feels at least 10 years out of date, but that's OK; and maybe I'm wrong; maybe it will be or already is a hit on the actual (non-movie) radio.

Also, it's interesting, and I'd like to see the movie again to confirm it (and I think I'd like to see the movie again because it made me laugh), but I don't think the main song ever gets performed all the way through in the movie, for various narrative and pacing reasons. Which is interesting too.

The power of images combined with music. A while ago I took the kid to a Bach recital, and he's a good boy but he didn't last long. But in the previous month I had taken him to Chinese New Year festivals on three successive week-ends. (He's in a Chinese-language pre-school, and we're working on adopting from China, so he's interested.) (The best of the three festivals was in a south suburban shopping center called The Mall of the Great Wall; it also had the smallest percentage of white people in attendance.) Anyway, the kid sat raptly, silently, for long stretches when there was something going on visually as well as musically.

Radio is a thin medium; we don't see the singers. Seeing them humanizes them and makes the songs more sympathetic, more sticky, more powerful. At least, that's the theory. They know how to work it in the movies.

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