Money Jungle was one of my very first jazz albums and in my book a true classic. The musicians – Duke Ellington on piano, Charles Mingus on bass, and Max Roach on drums – are all legendary in their own rite, and they come together to create what was quite possibly the finest piano trio in history.
The Blue Note album begins with a sprightly (I dig that word!) intro called “A Very Special,” and indeed. Each instrument is well mixed and “visible” throughout the track, which is driven equally by their classic jazz rhythm section.
Many of Mingus’s compositions didn’t necessarily give him the entire limelight in his own albums, and yet his bass playing hardly ever gets the chance to shine in quite the same way, sans brass. Just listen to his meandering lines in “Switch Blade!”
Max on drums is always a treat, and certainly among my favorite drummers, though as usual I’m no expert. He plays with complex, intricate, but always tight beats.
And while the Duke commands attention naturally, even among this notable group, I love listening to each part separately in jazz. It gives you a sense of the individual musicianship – and then when you sit back and listen again to the entire work, it’s a treat in and of itself. Studio recordings are quite a separate art from live music performances, and I’m not truly convinced that one trumps another.
Though there is nothing like the improvisation – mistakes and all – that a live show affords with its electric energy, a solid recording can be just as interesting. It has to tell a story as it moves from track to track, and artists may try to make a statement within the scope of an album that can be bigger than any individual performance. (One need only remember John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme to be reminded of this.)
This is a great album, which I picked up for the first time on compact disc in the library of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. I’ve been listening to it for years, and it really was the starting point for my love of all things Mingus – and jazz.