Joni Mitchell – Mingus (1979)

FrontCover1Mingus is the tenth studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, and a collaboration with composer and jazz musician Charles Mingus. Recorded in the months before his death, it would be Mingus’s final musical project; the album is wholly dedicated to him. Mingus was released on June 13, 1979.

The album is quite experimental, featuring minimalist jazz, over-plucked, buzzing acoustic guitars, and even wolves howling through “The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey”. All of the lyrics are by Mitchell, while the music for four of the songs was composed by Mingus, three being new tunes, a fourth being his tribute to saxophonist Lester Young from his 1959 classic Mingus Ah Um, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, for which Mitchell wrote a set of lyrics.

As with the release preceding, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, Mitchell hired personnel from jazz fusion group Weather Report, notably bassist Jaco Pastorius to play on the sessions. Mingus would also mark the first reunion of saxophonist Wayne Shorter and pianist Herbie Hancock in the studio since recording together on Shorter’s seminal Native Dancer album, featuring Milton Nascimento, released in September 1974.

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The album is spliced with excerpts, which are labelled “(Rap)”, from recordings provided by Sue Graham Mingus, including a scat singing interplay between Joni and Mingus, and Charles and Sue arguing over his age at a birthday party. In “Funeral”, Mingus and others discuss how long he’ll live and what his funeral will be like. He refers to the Vedanta Society and asserts that he’s going to live longer than Duke Ellington, who died in 1974, aged 75, by saying, “I’m going to cut Duke!”. “God Must Be a Boogie Man”—having taken shape two days after his death—was the only song Mingus was unable to hear. Mitchell suggests in the liner notes that Mingus would have found it hilarious. The song was re-recorded with orchestral accompaniment on Joni’s 2002 album “Travelogue”. The artwork features several paintings by Mitchell of Mingus. It peaked at #17 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. (by wikipedia)

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In the months prior to the passing of legendary jazz bassist Charles Mingus, Joni Mitchell had been personally summoned by the bop pioneer to collaborate on a musical version of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. The project would entail Mitchell to condense the text for Mingus to score instrumentally. He planned on utilizing a full orchestra, as well as the more traditional guitar and bass. They would accompany Mitchell’s vocals and the narration of selected portions of the text. After a few weeks of consideration, Mitchell’s reaction was that “[she]’d rather condense the bible.” Mingus then bestowed Mitchell with six melodies — “Joni I” through “Joni VI” — penned specifically for her. Mitchell spent a few weeks with Mingus — who was totally immobilized from amyotropic lateral sclerosis (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) — during the spring of 1978. Their partnership advanced the half-dozen tunes. More importantly, it shook Mitchell from a three-month long writer’s block/drought — yielding two of her best late-’70s compositions: “God Must Be a Boogie Man” and the revisitation and completion of a track she’d been wood-shedding, now titled “The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey.” Incidentally, the former piece was inspired by the opening chapters of Mingus’ autobiography, Beneath the Underdog.

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Initial recordings during Mitchell’s stay with Mingus in New York City produced several interesting experimental sessions with the likes of Stanley Clarke (bass), Jan Hammer (keyboards), John McLaughlin (guitar), Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax), and Tony Williams (drums). A few of these recordings — while rumored to have been lost, destroyed, or made otherwise unavailable — were leaked into the trading community in the late ’90s. Arguably, Mitchell could not have chosen any finer musicians than the sextet she ultimately incorporated into this work. The luminaries include Herbie Hancock (electric piano), Wayne Shorter (soprano sax), Jaco Pastorious (bass/horn arrangements), Peter Erskine (drums), Don Alias (congas), and Emil Richards (percussion). Sprinkled amongst these soulfully jazzy pieces are five “raps,” or aural snapshots of the time Mitchell and Mingus spent together. Sadly, Charles Mingus passed before he was able to listen to this timeless and ageless paean to his remarkable contributions to bop and free jazz. (by Lindsay Planer)

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Personnel:
Don Alias (percussion)
Peter Erskine (drums)
Herbie Hancock (piano)
Joni Mitchell (guitar, vocals)
Jaco Pastorius (bass)
Wayne Shorter (saxophone)eeeeeey
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Emil Richards (percussion (on 04.)

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Tracklist:
01. Happy Birthday 1975 (Rap) (Hill) 0.58
02. God Must Be A Boogie Man /Mitchell) 4,32
03. Funeral (Rap) / A Chair In The Sky (Mitchell/Mingus) 7.47
04. The Wolf That Lives In Lindsey (Mitchell) 6.22
05. I’s A Muggin’ (Rap) / Sweet Sucker Dance (Mitchell/Mingus) 8.13
06. Coin In The Pocket (Rap) / The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines (Mitchell/Mingus) 3.40
07. Lucky (Rap) / Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (Mitchell/Mingus) 5.27

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