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Listening Report: Charles Mingus On Impulse Records, Acoustic Sounds Reissue

Mark Smotroff hears a favorite Jazz album anew…


I had to switch between albums on my turntable several times when I first put on the new Acoustic Sounds series reissue of Charles Mingus’ 1964 Impulse Records release Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus. I had just played some tracks from my trusty and beloved 1976 edition of the album and was a bit taken aback initially (not in a bad way mind you… more on that in a moment).

It was just that I wasn’t sure exactly what I was hearing, as it sounded so different… and amazing! Perhaps some perspective is order as to why I was surprised.  

1976-era reissue label

You see, when I was getting into Jazz more seriously at the end of Jr. High in the mid-1970s, Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus was the first album by this artist which I bought on my own. I’d enjoyed my older brother’s copy of Mingus Ah Um a whole bunch so I bought this Impulse album sort of on blind faith, liking the cover and the price (I’m pretty sure I bought it new but it was on sale or was a reduced price series). The album quickly became a favorite and before long I was starting to collect any Mingus albums I could find (and could afford, which was always a challenge as a typically broke kid in Jr. High and on into college). 

Anyhow, Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus has remained a favorite over the years, it largely being a collection of larger band arrangements of many of his classic tunes from earlier releases. The group on this album is not quite a “big band” in the grand sense but there are some legends in this assemblage including Jaki Byard on Piano, Eric Dolphy, Charlie Mariano and Booker Ervin on saxes and longtime Mingus drummer Dannie Richmond on several tracks. Tubas, Trumpets, Guitar and a variety of saxes are the primary textures here for arranger Bob Hammer. 

At times Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus reminds me of Zappa’s Grand Wazoo / Wakajawa albums from the early 1970s — a bigger band music that isn’t afraid to dance naked precariously on the edge of going off the rails. 

The result is stunning, kind of like if one of Ellington’s bands from the 1940s were given several big pots of coffee and deposited in a church, performing hair raising improvisation of evangelical proportions.  

So when I put the new Acoustic Sounds pressing of Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus on my turntable, the feel of what I was hearing was somehow different. Very different. But I also liked it, as the music was now coming through in a much more open and air-y manner. Mingus’ bass sounds remarkably present and natural. The sound stage on some of the tunes is quite wonderful, particularly hearing the room around the drums and the pure force of the air pushing from the multiple horns.  

The sound is quite wonderful but it does come with at least one curious cost: more production detailing which perhaps the original producers were trying to mask on my earlier, more compressed 1976 pressing. Particularly, there are numerous moments where edits have been made to create the final recording. I don’t know if they were so-called “razor” edits, where different takes are literally spliced together from different tapes, or if I’m hearing “punch ins” (of a sort) where certain tracks are manually muted/unmuted on-the-fly for striking contrasts in sound. My guess given that this album was made in 1963 at a time when most Jazz artists were recording at best on 3-track units, it is probably physical tape edits I’m hearing.  

Either way, its a pretty cool thing. Now that I am used to this new and overall clearer sound, I am hearing all sorts of details I’ve never noticed before, from little studio noises to individual instrument attacks that can now be felt as well as heard. 

2021 Acoustic Sounds reissue label design

As with all the earlier Acoustic Sounds series releases, the cover art is exemplary here. This new, lushly laminated edition is, of course, shaming my low budget ‘70s edition that was just a standard type cover with comparatively washed out artwork. 

The new vinyl pressing is excellent, dead quiet and well centered on both sides, so I am very happy on that front.  And the actual record label design is period accurate to the original release, which is a detail collectors appreciate.

Original label design

Now my only conundrum is whether to get rid of my ‘70s pressing?!  I think I will hold on to it for a while more for comparison / contrast in the future (or until I find a reasonably priced original to replace it with).

All in all, I’m thrilled with this new Acoustic Sounds Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus. Bravo!

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