Billet-Deux: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

The promo material asks the listener to consider what a modern take on Django Reinhardt might sound like. Well, I have to say that hearing Mingus given the gypsy jazz treatment takes nothing away from either genre. (Yeah, Mingus really was his own genre.) This tune's modern blues becomes more introspective as guitars take a first pass at the well-worn theme. The introduction and truly swingin' gypsy jazz segments are bridged by a short passage featuring long cello lines and circular guitar figures, the brooding nature of which totally enhances the uplift to follow. I'm not sure what was more fun: hearing the two guitars play off each other, or witnessing the cello taking on the role of Stéphane Grappelli. You'll have to decide for yourself.

January 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

This is definitely a different take on Mingus's classic ode to Lester Young. After the master's somber bowed intro, the tune becomes a showcase for the two young acoustic guitarists Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine, who approach the music Gypsy-style à la Django. They play fast and furious over the slow changes. Coryell appears first with a blues-tinged Gypsy solo. Catherine seems to reach a little deeper into the Django bag. Of the two, Catherine pays more attention to his surroundings. Coleman takes a nice turn to usher in a short solo from Mingus. Coryell and Catherine are then again afforded extended opportunities. This is certainly not the best version of "Pork Pie" that has come down the pike. But by including two young guitar superstars, Mingus shows that, even entering the final years of his life, he was unafraid to introduce new sounds into his music. Sure it doesn't always work. But the effort is worth listening to.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Mention Charlie Mingus's tribute to Lester Young these days and most people will associate it with Jeff Beck's electric version on his album Wired. That performance was good enough, but did not really please Charlie. He wanted it played with the jazz changes he had written. John McLaughlin played those changes. He also played the tune on a steel-stringed acoustic guitar. Fans familiar only with his jarring electric work from this period were stunned and then quickly enchanted by just how beautiful distortion-master McLaughlin could make an acoustic guitar sound. His exacting jazz chords, clean fleet-fingered runs snapped off like dry branches, and subtle harmonic nuances showed a mastery of the guitar that wasn't known at that time. McLaughlin's emotive performance of "Pork Pie" betrayed a player who, despite his growing fame in the rock world, was really carrying on a tradition.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joni Mitchell: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Non-jazz artists flirting with jazz are usually slumming. Not so Joni Mitchell, whose respect for the art led her to collaborate with a dying Charles Mingus. Financially, Mingus was for Mitchell a paean in the ass, shooting down her high-flying popularity faster than a surface-to-air missile. Artistically, however, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" hit the moon. Mitchell's ode set to Mingus's 1959 instrumental is, fittingly under the circumstances, more about him than about the song's nominal subject, Lester Young. Her reference to "dangerous clowns, balancing dreadful and wonderful perceptions" is a haunting epitaph for a dreadful and wonderful giant of jazz, who died on January 5, 1979, a few months prior to Joni's recording.

November 08, 2007 · 1 comment

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Charles Mingus: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Late in life, Lester Young was asked if any of the myriad younger musicians who copied his style had ever thanked him. "No," said the tenor sax giant, "none have." Which makes this tribute all the more poignant, for no jazzman could have been less like Lester than Charles Mingus. Pres was cool, ethereal, pithy and wistful. Mingus was fiery, earthy, caustic and withering. Yet on an album paying homage to such greats as Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, Mingus also provides this gentle, loving requiem to Lester. Mingus said it for us all. Thank you, Pres.

October 25, 2007 · 1 comment

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