Charles Mingus – Let My Children Hear Music
1972 – Columbia Records, Original Pressing
With song titles like “The Shoes Of The Fisherman’s Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers” and “Don’t Be Afraid, The Clown’s Afraid Too”, I can already tell I love this album before I listen to it. The cover is simple and abstract, with small spheres, a tree, half a rainbow, and a dark background, it doesn’t give away what sounds are about to come your way. From reading the notes from Mingus himself on the insert, this is a collection of compositions spanning 30 years. These songs all feature a large ensemble with brass, strings, and a full percussion section. The mastery here comes in the arranging and how it fits the compositions. There are different time signatures and speeds all happening at once and they all work perfectly. The tension that pulls at this whole record is released in the exact right moments. In “The Shoes…” tension is broken when the band cuts out and a unison line from the woodwinds and sliding pitch shift on the timpani shines through. Sound effects of elephants and lions with a rolling snare and trumpet line bring you to the circus, which then cuts to a spectacularly arranged big band chart. The back cover says that many of these orchestrations were from Sy Johnson. In researching him, I found that he arranged for Joe Williams, Frank Sinatra, Wes Montgomery, Quincy Jones, Benny Goodman, Count Basie among others, which constitutes quite a resume. Another highlight is when Mingus recites a poem over one of the tracks, which sets a scene that reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode. “The I of Hurricane Sue” starts where the last track left of, with a weird creepy feel and morphs into a brilliant straight ahead big band piece (with elements of free and noise sneaking in and out). In looking up the Billboard Magazine when this album was released, I found some of the hits of the day were “Heart of Gold” from Neil Young, “Mother and Child Reunion” from Paul Simon, and “Horse with No Name” from America. The hits of the day give this album an interesting context to exist within. This is definitely an album that needs to be listened to on nice speakers, there is so much detail that would be missed without the benefit of a decent sound system.