Backward Glances – #3


All my LP records were in storage in NJ beginning in 1994, and I have recently been reunited with the survivors here in Oz after a depressing trip to The States in late 2016. Ergo, this occasional series as a celebration of being able to hear some of my favorite music again!


Occasionally, there unexpectedly comes along an album that surprises one on initial release that it actually took place – against all the odds. “Money Jungle” is one of those albums – Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach as an ad hoc trio… who’d a thunk it?? It involved a bit more than throwing them all together and seeing what would happen, but not too much! I’m not sure of my time lines, but this probably would have taken place some years after Mingus was actually fired from the Ellington band by Ellington himself[1].

Charles seems to have been terribly nervous and/or over-awed/over-wrought about recording with his idol/former boss that he supposedly split the studio in the middle of the session, eventually being cajoled back in by Max and producer Alan Douglas. That was a good thing, as it produced one hell of a fine and important album, one that has kept its positive reputation over time. This really was not just another simple piano trio session of standards and blues, but some serious thought, composition and playing by all three participants – one an idol to the other two – going for broke! When I bought this back in the dim, dark day of the early 60’s, I was gob-smacked by the energy and feeling put forth by all three of the musicians. It seldom left my turntable.

Recorded in 1962 and released in ’64, the LP begins with the title song where all dig deeply to produce a seriously high-energy piece of new music. This is an actual TRIO and not piano with rhythm accompaniment for sure! That level of commitment to the group continues throughout the LP, slow or fast; light or heavy. Interestingly enough, there is very little dipping into Duke’s voluminous song bag for Ellingtonian standards – this was serious musical business for him as well as for his co-participants.

There have been several LP and CD reissues of this material, often with more cuts attached: Blue Note BT 85129 being one that has four additional pieces [“REM Blues”, “A Little Max”, “Switch Blade”, “Backward Country Boy Blues” issued in 1986 and produced by Michael Cuscuna]. A later CD release has all eleven pieces recorded; the original LP release order first [“Money Jungle” through to “Solitude”], plus alternates of “Solitude”, “Switch Blade”, “A Little Max”, and  “REM Blues” (Blue Note 7243 5 38227 2 9 from 2002). An earlier 1987 CD (Blue Note CDP 7 46398 2) has thirteen pieces in all, beginning with “Very Special”. These may well be sequenced as recorded at the time, for the ordering is quite different from the original LP. The liner notes there are George Wein’s from the original LP and no help in deciphering what’s on second or other useful info! (This surmise of mine is bolstered by reading the [tiny print] notes from Señor Cuscuna found on the 2002 CD!) However, you have/get this album, cherish it – if ya ain’t got it yet, wassamattayou?

Most recently there has been a CD/album from drummer Terri Lynne Carrington entitled “Money Jungle – Provocative in Blue” from Concord Records (CJA-34026-02) that was released to great acclaim (including in this journal). She uses pieces from the 1962 released session as starting points for her group to honor Ellington and his music. Some additional “outside” material is also included with some of her own: Grass Roots and No Boxes (Nor Words), plus Gerald Clayton’s Cut Off. One of the photographs of this trio even replicates the original LP cover photo as to positioning of drummer and bassist around the piano! Seriously great stuff all around! Hey, it’s Duke, and as a card-carrying atheist I feel that if there was such an existing entity as “God”, her name would probably be Edward Kennedy Ellington. So there!


PETER B. LOWRY                                                                                                                         Sydney, Nov. 2017

[1] One of the few musicians known to have that actually directly happen to him from the maestro himself. Usually, musicians who had overstayed their welcome in the band were made to feel progressively more uncomfortable by staying, such that they resigned without actually being fired. Is this true? Is this “fake news”? I’ll never know for sure! Good story, though!


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