Charles Mingus & Langston Hughes: Consider Me
Charles Mingus (bass)
Charles Mingus's Finest Hour (Verve 589636)
Kenny Dennis (drums).
Music composed by Charles Mingus; poetry by Langston Hughes.
Recorded: New York, March 18, 1958
Rating: 84/100 (learn more)
"Jazz gives poetry a much wider following," said Langston Hughes in 1958, "and poetry brings jazz the greater respectability that people seem to think it needs. I don't think jazz needs it, but most people seem to." Not coincidentally, 1958 was the year of Weary Blues, Hughes's album of '50s Jazz & Poetry, which by then had become a Bohemian staple from North Beach to Greenwich Village. It was also the year that, amazingly, Charles Mingus had only one record date, scoring and accompanying half of Weary Blues.
Five decades later, "Consider Me" has the faded grayness and frayed corners of an old snapshot long forgotten in Grandma's attic. While Hughes's repeated use of the self-descriptive "colored boy" certainly pales by comparison with the indiscriminate abuse of the N word by today's rappers, it may nonetheless make some listeners uncomfortable. If so, that's the only thing about this track likely to disturb anyone.
Even for the staid 1950s, "Consider Me" is surprisingly meek. Neither a plea for equality nor a demand for justice, it's more like a well-dressed, mild-mannered Eisenhower-era professor invited to address an Episcopalian Sunday school class on the approved topic "What It's Like to be a Negro." It's all so polite that we can scarcely believe Charles Mingus was involved.
Mingus was after all one of the most tempestuous personalities in jazz. But you'd never know it from this track. Tasked to accompany Hughes's wistful reading, Mingus sets Shafi Hadi's plaintive sax over his own arco bass to create a brooding melancholia, which he relieves only occasionally and in the most predictable ways, obediently taking his cues from Hughes's spoken words. At the mention of "G-O-D," pianist Parlan drops in a few ominous clusters. When Langston declaims, "On Friday the eagle flies," Mingus shifts to a bouncy tango, maintaining it as Hughes allows that Saturday brings "laughter, a bar, a bed." But after "Sunday prayers syncopate glory," Monday's workaday grind begins anew and the music compliantly settles back down.
Pallid and deferential are words seldom applied to Charles Mingus. In this case, while a lack of drama may suit the poet's pensive preoccupations, the overall result is doleful, droopy and dreary. As Hughes repeatedly intones "Consider me / A colored boy," we wait in vain for Mingus to exclaim: "No! Damn it, Langston. Consider me. A dangerous black man." Hughes was right about one thing, though. Jazz did not need this much respectability.
Reviewer: Alan Kurtz