Charles Mingus

Oh Yeah

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After several sessions with Columbia and Candid, Charles Mingus briefly returned to Atlantic and cut the freewheeling Oh Yeah, which has to rank as the wildest of all his classic albums. Mingus plays no bass whatsoever, hiring Doug Watkins to fill in while he accompanies the group on piano and contributes bluesy vocals to several tracks (while shouting encouragement on nearly all of them). Mingus had always had a bizarre sense of humor, as expressed in some of his song titles and arranging devices, but Oh Yeah often gets downright warped. That's partly because Mingus is freed up to vocalize more often, but it's also due to the presence of mad genius Roland Kirk. His chemistry with Mingus is fantastically explosive, which makes sense -- both were encyclopedias of jazz tradition, but given over to oddball modernist experimentation. It's a shame Kirk only spent three months with the band, because his solo interpretations are such symbiotic reflections of Mingus' intent as a composer. Look no further than "Hog Callin' Blues," a stomping "Haitian Fight Song" descendant where Kirk honks and roars the blues like a man possessed. Mingus' vocal selections radiate the same dementia, whether it's the stream-of-consciousness blues couplets on "Devil Woman," the dark-humored modern-day spiritual "Oh Lord Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me," or the dadaist stride piano bounce of "Eat That Chicken," a nod to Fats Waller's comic novelties. Elsewhere, "Passions of a Man" sounds almost like musique concrète, while "Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am" nicks some Monk angularity and "Ecclusiastics" adds some testifying shouts and a chorale-like theme to Mingus' gospel-jazz hybrid. Oh Yeah is probably the most offbeat Mingus album ever, and that's what makes it so vital. [Some reissues add three bonus tracks from the session, first released on Tonight at Noon.]

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