Money Jungle is a classic Jazz album with a trio consisting of Duke Ellington on piano, Charles Mingus on bass, and Max Roach on drums. It is not far fetched to say this very well may be the greatest trio ever created. Originally released in 1962. I am reviewing the Blue Note rerelease which has alternate takes and a few bonus records. Regardless of which version you listen to you, are in for a treat. So let’s begin with the first track titled “Very Special”.
“Very Special” begins with Ellington playing the melody and the rhythm section laying down the foundation. The key to this blues based song is Ellington’s classic blues riffs, and the interaction he has with the rhythm section, particularly Charles Mingus. Throughout this album awareness and interaction with other musicians is evident and necessary. Trio’s have to fill up more space with less instrumentation, especially when piano is the lead instrument. To do this, to keep things interesting, their has to be interaction. You can hear how Mingus walks bass lines, and rhythmically reacts or imitates Ellington’s improvisational lines. This leads to an interesting listening experience and keeps our interest. It may be difficult to listen to the interaction at first, but play close attention to the bass lines, focus on them, you will hear what I mean.
Following “Very Special” we have ” A Little Max” which is a prime example of interaction. Everyone has integral part, everyone is responding and reacting to each other, and piano is still the primary instrument. I especially love Max Roach’s fills and phrases, it really makes this tune stand out. An added bonus to having the Blue Note version is you get to hear an alternate take immediately after. This is nice because you can immediately compare the different ways the musicians approach the record on multiple takes.
Things slow down momentarily with “Fleurette Africaine” (African Flower) this is a beautiful ballad and Ellington does not disappoint. He plays with conviction, utilizes the entire piano’s range, and demonstrates his spread out grandiose voicings. Ellington is the only soloist but Mingus still has interesting approaches to walking bass for this ballad and Roach also has makes his presence known without getting in the way of Ellington. The next record is “Rem Blues” which is just a classic blues record. Ellington gives us a classic blues riffs, I love Mingus’ solo, Roach also has an amazing solo this is, overall a blues classic and a must listen to on this album.
Following “Rem Blues” we have a few interesting tracks, “Wig Wise” and “Caravan” in particular. “Wig Wise” has a blues, Monk inspired solo by Ellington. Lots of dissonance and just the way he approached the tune was very “modern” for lack of a better term. “Switch Blade” is placed nicely in between “Wig Wise” and “Caravan” since both of these tunes are sort of “out there” it’s nice to have a classic blues tune in between. If you liked “Rem Blues” you will love “Switch Blade”. Again, lots of interaction, I love Mingus’ solo and his awareness of what Ellington is doing and his responses to his licks. “Caravan” is an amazing, interesting, latin tune. The dissonance, the progression, the melody, its all wild. Ellington solos pretty out there lots of interaction, lots of dissonance, lots of whole tone and runs. I love everything about this tune, the drum feels is exciting, Roach walks bass differently, and Ellington leads the way soloing and trading 4’s. Overall whenever you see “Caravan” being played by anyone check it out. It’s always interesting hearing the new and different ways people approach the tune.
Following “Caravan” we have the title track “Money Jungle” which I feel best represents this album, lots of blues, lots of dissonance, lots of interaction between Ellington and the rest of the rhythm section. The track “Money Jungle” can essentially be the album review for this album. After “Money Jungle” the album has a few ballads, “Solitude” twice, and “Warm Valley” I particularly like “Solitude” both versions are great, and, to me, if you want to hear a beautiful ballad you can’t go wrong with “Solitude”. The album concludes with “Backward Country Boy Blues” which I feel is appropriate since it’s a blues. Ending on a blues is like saying we are back home.
This album is historic, three of the best musicians ever playing at a very high level. This jazz classic has, and will continue to stand the test of time. This album is a prime example of what all Jazz musicians aspire to do. Create a classic, have solos that are appropriate to the song, and interact with each other during solos. If you are not very much into Jazz this is one of the albums I would recommend. Hard to go wrong here, and the interaction and different genres addressed makes it so everyone can have a personal favorite record on this album. If you haven’t done so listen to Money Jungle, it’s a must and you will be in for a treat. Thank you, and, as always, thank you for staying in The Jazz Loop.