Duke Ellington’s “MONEY JUNGLE” Album Cover
Although Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born at the end of the nineteenth century, more than two decades before the births of the seminal bass player Charles Mingus and the trans-formative drummer Max Roach, at no time during his over six decades long career as America’s most celebrated bandleader did he ever seem to be out of step with the more adventurous elements in the development of jazz.
This is illustrated in the most dramatic and innovative manner by the music contained in the album Money Jungle (Blue Note 7243 5 38227 2 9),performed by a trio led by Duke at the piano supported by the two younger stars. This remarkably original and uniquely percussive set of performances in a format that was unusual for each of the performers will remain a forever significant listening experience for anyone who hears it. Duke Ellington always used the piano as an instrumental guide for arrangements of orchestral complexity when leading his band, but here in a much more intimate setting he is unveiled as an improviser of profoundly spontaneous emotions.
The complementary harmonious accompaniment of Mingus on bass and the percussive excitement generated by Max Roach on drums appears to have inspired the older man with extraordinary vitality. Even gentle lyrical compositions such as the classic FLEURETTE AFRICAIN (The Little African Flower) and WARM VALLEY, are performed with a level of vigour that transforms their signature style from melodic to rhythmic focal force.
The album commences with an extraordinary display of instrumental virtuosity from Mingus on bass on the title tune that sets the musical agenda effectively by inviting the listener to expect dynamic but unusually formulated interactions among the three highly individualistic virtuoso performers. It must be revealed here that the CD version of this set is very different from the original vinyl record. The first seven selections make up what was the original LP from a total session of fifteen performances. This CD includes the eight additional performances of highly free-form blues-influenced piano-led compositions that sound as if they were arranged to accompany visually dramatic narrative dances.
The first group includes highly cerebral but also melodic interpretations of two Ellington orchestral classics, CARAVAN and SOLITUDE that have become standards of the American popular music repertoire. In the latter section the pieces entitled SWITCHBLADE and REM BLUES, and the especially touching BACKWARD COUNTRY BOY BLUES provide remarkable evidence of Duke’s under-exposed abilities as a blues pianist. This aspect of the performance of this trio sets the tone for an understanding of the music collected here as an illustration of cross-generational relevance in jazz.
For this reason, if for no other, a close and regular visit to the MONEY JUNGLE is recommended for younger listeners, It will help them to comprehend why and how jazz remains a musical form that can expand the creative as well as the intellectual and emotional horizons of those who make the effort to hear the musical conversations generated by collaborations across the generations by masters.