Recorded in New York, December 1954.
Bassist Charles Mingus was at a transitional point in his career when he recorded this music (which was formerly out on Everest). He was about ready to chuck his explorations with modern classical music devices and add a strong emotional feel to his music. For these five selections the unique voices of trumpeter Thad Jones, altoist John LaPorta, Teo Macero on tenor and baritone, cellist Jackson Wiley and drummer Clem DeRosa are mixed together with Mingus's bass and occasional piano to create music tied to bop but utilizing some simultaneous soloing and unusual combinations of sound. The results are not quite essential but they are often fascinating.
All Music Guide
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If one word were chosen to describe both Charles Mingus and his music it would be "intensity." A major transitional figure between bebop and free jazz, Mingus was a highly individual musician who, although capable of playing expertly in both idioms, did not belong to any specific jazz "school" except the one he created.
As a bassist, Mingus only had one real competitor by the 1950's, the great Oscar Pettiford (who had preceded him). Both masters took their inspiration from the short-lived Jimmy Blanton who during his period with Duke Ellington's orchestra almost single-handedly led the way for other bassists to turn their instrument into a solo device and a creative accompanist rather than just a quiet timekeeper. Mingus served important periods with a wide variety of jazz artists (including Barney Bigard, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, the Red Norvo Trio, Billy Taylor, Stan Getz, Art Tatum, Bud Powell and even briefly Duke Ellington) and even on his earliest recordings, his bass was immediately recognizable and constantly pushing the soloist.
But to discuss Charles Mingus as just a bassist would be analogous to thinking of Duke Ellington as merely a fine pianist. Ever since the mid-1940's, Mingus was involved in composing advanced works; his "Mingus Fingers," which was waxed with Lionel Hampton in 1947, still sounds futuristic. And, as much as he admired Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (both of whom he recorded at the famous 1953 Massey Hall Concert for his own Debut label), Mingus quickly lost patience with younger players who merely copied their idols. To break away from the limitations of bop, during 1952-55 Mingus was active in the Jazz Composer's Workshop, contributing complex originals and often recording written-out works that were as heavily influenced by contemporary classical music as by jazz.
But by late 1954, Charles Mingus realized that there was something missing in his compositions, himself! He soon began to infuse his music with his own heritage (the church hymns, blues, swing, Ellington and soul music that he remembered from his youth) and the result was a passionate blend of styles that can only be described as pure Mingus.
Through the next few decades the volatile bassist would push his sidemen mercilessly, telling them verbally what he wanted his music to say (rather than relying on written-out parts) and forcing them to be as original as possible. A partial list of musicians who greatly benefited from being in the fiery and at times uncomfortable (but always stimulating) Mingus musical universe includes trumpeters Richard Williams, Ted Curson, Clarence Shaw, Lonnie Hillyer, Johnny Coles and Jack Walrath, trombonists Jimmy Knepper and Eddie Bert, altoists Shaft Hadi, Jackie McLean, John Handy, Eric Dolphy and Charles McPherson, tenors J.R. Monterose, Booker Ervin, Roland Kirk, Clifford Jordan, Bobby Jones, George Adams and Ricky Ford and pianists Mal Waldron, Wade Legge, Horace Parian, Jaki Byard and Don Pullen along with his longtime drummer Danny Richmond.
The five titles included on Intrusions date from December 1954 and find Charlie Mingus at the key turning point of his career, rediscovering the blues but still writing out much of his music. The group itself is a fascinating variety of musical personalities. Trumpeter Thad Jones, who had recently become one of the stars of Count Basie's orchestra, had a crisp, bright tone, a harmonically advanced and unpredictable style and a way of attacking notes that later in the decade would influence Don Ellis. John LaPorta, best known as a clarinetist but here sticking mostly to his cool-toned alto, has spent much more time since this session as an educator than as a performing musician, a pity for his Lee Konitz-flavored playing can make even the most dissonant ideas sound accessible. Teo Macero, who is heard throughout this set on tenor and baritone, has continued playing music occasionally up to the present time but found his fame as a producer at Columbia Records, working closely with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and other top jazz and pop artists. Cellist Jackson Wiley and drummer Clem DeRosa have both remained obscure figures who are best-known for their participation in this unusual session.
Intrusions opens with a version of Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love" that also utilizes the melodies of the bop classics "Hot House" and "Woody'n You," a bit of simultaneous soloing by the horns (a favorite device of Mingus' that pays tribute to New Orleans jazz while remaining very modern) and some unusual combinations of sounds. Mingus, who switches between piano and bass throughout the session, sounds surprisingly like Lennie Tristano on the former during this cut. His piano solo includes a nine (as opposed to eight) bar bridge and he is supported by the walking cello of Wiley, a swinging part that was actually mostly written out.
"Spur Of The Moment," which uses the chords of " 'S Wonderful," is similar in style, using three written lines at its beginning, featuring fine solos from each of the horns and Mingus' bass, and including a few surprisingly dissonant sections that are both overcrowded and exciting. "Thrice Upon A Theme" is more complex and looks back at Mingus' activities of the previous two years. The two movements swing but progress un-predictably with totally composed interludes and plenty of unexpected moments; LaPorta's clarinet is the lead voice throughout.
"Four Hands" is played by the Mingus-LaPorta-Macero-DeRosa quartet (or technically, quintet) with the leader overdubbing his piano on top of his bass. The chord changes are based on the swing standard "Idaho," providing a strong background for particularly inventive solos by Macero on tenor and altoist LaPorta; Mingus gets to solo on both of his instruments.
The closer, "Minor Intrusions," is actually the major work of the session. This ambitious Mingus original has the feeling of the blues without technically being a blues, contains a few memorable melodies that hint at future Mingus compositions, explores a variety of moods, uses the cello creatively and has plenty of interplay between the horns. Although much of the music was actually read from paper, the composed sections often sound like they could have been made up spontaneously while the short solos are logical enough to have been composed.
During the next 25 years until his death in 1979, Charles Mingus would become famous as a bassist, band leader and an instigator of strikingly original music. Intrusions finds him at the brink of his musical self-discovery and makes for a continually fascinating listen.
- Scott Yanow