The Charlie Mingus Jazz Workshop - Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956), 7/10

Pithecanthropus Erectus is an essential early Mingus record. Whether it is the proto-free jazz of the opening title track or the landscape crafted in "A Foggy Day", this quintet recorded a great set of compositions with matching energy. The album is mostly so immensely respectable for its place in the evolution of jazz rather than being an otherworldly listening experience at this stage in jazz music’s history. It signifies an important change in Mingus’ sound and direction that would produce some of his best work both as a bandleader and as a performer. I find the A side to be head and shoulders above the latter half of the record for its swing, earworms and general appeal, as “Profile of Jackie” is successful but as a simple ballad, and “Love Chant”, while supremely satisfying and wonderful to listen to, feels like an extension of sound and message rather than containing its own unique ethos. Mingus is clearly a powerhouse of a performer already at this early stage of his career, as is the talented Jackie McLean, who would come out of this recording session to produce one of his own great albums. McLean provides several standout performances and is a vital part of the sonic pallet as well as the storytelling arc of these songs. Of course Jones and Waldron are also essential but as an atmospheric extension and accentuation of the rest of the group’s contributions. There is an unmistakable 50s sound to the recording itself, but it is charming and meshes well with the composition and arrangement style, exceptionally so on the bookend tracks. Of course the narrative of the record is worth mentioning and certainly one of Mingus’ best, most successful philosophical statements. It’s nothing earth-shattering to a thinking man, but fantastic as a singular effort in music, especially at this stage in its development. The performances themselves, in part due to the aforementioned tone and recording sensibilities, contain a very pleasant intimacy juxtaposed against a grand style of composition and improvisation. I would go so far as to say Pithecanthropus Erectus represents an unmatched purity in poetics and form that was never matched by this very specific style of music ever again, even while its performances may have been overshadowed in technicality and versatility. Absolutely essential listening in context of the 50s jazz epoch.