Monday, May 18, 2009

Song of the Week: "II B.S.", Charles Mingus

Baby's got back! Bassist Charles Mingus was one of the most inventive arrangers to come out of the hard bop movement in the 50's and early 60's. He was also one hell of a bassist that garnered the attention of fellow jazz greats such as Max Roach, Eric Dolphy and Duke Ellington. In short, Mingus was one of the giants of the jazz world for about 20 years until his death of Lou Gherig's disease. He was also known for his extreme mood swings, violent outbursts and struggles with depression. Each of which translated to an uneven output.

Today we feature an original composition by Mr. Mingus, as it appeared on his 1963 album for Impulse Records, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus. The song is II B.S. and it is one hard-driving, bass-centric song, I'm sure you'll agree. Starting with a gentle bass introduction, and a far off percussion piece of ambience, the pace is quickly changed by one of the all-time great bass riffs ever recorded. Trumpets, trombones and a Tuba begin building over each other in big band layers. Faster, harder, more textured with each turn. Then around 1:27 we break into a hard-charging saxophone bop lead by Mr. Charlie Mariano followed by a beautifully punctuated piano lead. And back again we go, starting with a slight variation on that bass lead until drummer Dannie Richmond breaks it all down to finish the song. 



  1. Fabulous composition! But first that picture. It looks like Mingus, Parker and I thought Monk at first, but I'm not aware of Monk playing with either. So from a little research I am guessing Bud Powell.

    The intro is a cool combination of improvisational bass and percussion with some of the percussion, like the initial part of the first rapid percussive sequence as well as some string scrapes, handled by Mingus himself. The other percussive sounds are hard to pin down but they remind me of sounds on Miles' In a Silent Way from '69.

    The horns start and progress in a fashion worth noting in more detail. The tuba and sax (?) begin by alternating in concert between two sequences, the first being more melodic, the second being of a rapid staccato phrasing. The sequences repeat and additional horns enter, now playing the melodic sequence over the staccato sequence. Then the trumpet comes in and does the same, so that, from then on until the sax solo, both sequences are heard simultaneously, alternating between horn sections and building crescendo-like.

    I must add there is a Mancini quality to it and there is what seems to be a direct reference to Peter Gunn shortly after the sax solo starts with the three drawn-out horn phrasings.

  2. I agree, there is very much a Mancini quality to the early part of the number. And I get your Peter Gunn reference. Before the Sax lead jumps in, I can really imagine this song being used in a film score.

  3. Have you ever heard of a Jazz musician named Oliver Nelson? He was on that Mancini/film score composer cusp as well. His song, Elegy For A Duck (also on Impluse), is very similar to this composition. Check it out if you can.

  4. Haven't heard of him, thanks for the introduction. The time signature and bass and drum arrangement as heard most clearly at the beginning of that tune are unique and worth investigating, as is the disjointed piano at the end. The soprano sax gets a little heavy on the syrup towards the end for my taste. I suppose this tune and II B.S. have some melodic similarities but this one reminds me more of the introductory section of Brubeck's Take Five than anything else. In any event I would like to hear more from this character who apparently was recording at the age of 17.

    Back to II B.S. I understand that this tune can be viewed as a shorter version of a song Mingus recorded in '57 called Haitian FIght Song. Anyone?

  5. I had heard the same about Haitian Fight Song, but have not heard it.

    I generally agree with you about the syrup aspects of some of the Nelson song. Pretty killer bass line on Elegy isn't it? Listen to it on big speakers if you can. It really rumbles along nicely.