I'm writing this in the morning sunlight in my mum's kitchen, I managed to do a 'stupid', yesterday I ran my 14 miles, all went well, but while having a bath, I suddenly felt very poorly, like an instant migraine. I've not felt that terrible in a long time; the last time was running in the midday sun after eating only a croissant and a coffee, a ridiculous thing to do, I had to be rescued that day. On thinking about that, I realised I'd only had breakfast and a few snacks before my 14-mile run, which I set out on at 18.30, so by the time I was having my bath it was nearer 21.00, I'd not eaten since 7 am, what an idiot, so no sleep for me. I still feel poorly but listening to Mingus is weirdly soothing.

Anyway, this week's Listening closely is Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, by jazz double bassist and bandleader, Charles Mingus, (1922-1979). I've chosen this album as it was my first, not only jazz record, but double bass-led record. I was 17 and had just started learning double bass; my mum bought me my first double bass; it took years to pay it off. My bass's name was 'Blue', it cost £750, which was an unbelievable amount of money for us, to this day I don't know how she did it. With my own bass, which I couldn't stop playing, I was looking to know more about the music that could be played on it, in my local jazz and classical cd shop there was this cd, Mingus etc. I bought it on a whim. When I got home, I stuck it in my cd player; my mind was blown, the bass on the first track, II B.S., changed everything for me. I'd never heard anything like it; expressive doesn't cut it, it felt like those notes where being pulled from the ground, earthy, guttural, aggressive but at the same, sweet, passionate and exciting. Mingus introduced me to the idea that the double bass could have a unique voice, the double bass being a conduit for your voice.

This album is a big band album, think Duke Ellington, but where the double bassist is shouting at you, Mingus was known for this, often pulling out the best performances any way he knew how to, cajoling and scaring the shit out of them, you name it, he would do it. Mingus is known for both his double bass playing and his composing/arranging, a monster at both. This album was recorded in 1963 and released the following year on the record label Impulse; it's a look back at his career with reworkings, rearrangements and the renaming of tracks. Preceding this album was arguably his best work 'The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady', the title alone is fantastic.

'II B.S', which is basically 'Haitian Fight Song, from the 'Clown' album, starts with an awesome bluesy double bass solo/vocal part, with some addition cymbals by Walter Perkins. Mingus plays the body of his bass and the drums answer it, then he hurtles into this amazing riff, a repetitive walking bass line, joined by a fast swing on the drums. On listening back to this intro, it reminds me of the wonderfully inventive Avishai Cohen, who also accompanies himself playing the body of the double bass at the same time as a bass line or melody. When the horns enter, what a sound. Tuba, saxes, trumpets and trombone, driving it all though, is the rhythm section, pure excitement and passion.

II B.S. From Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus.

'IX Love', is a beautiful ballad, played with a lovely swing, the horns slipping and sliding around, beautiful. This track has a stunning sax solo and a beautiful sax break towards the end. This album was recorded with an 11 piece band, two different bands, recorded at two separate sessions. They were featuring some of Mingus's key players, Jaki Byard on piano, Eric Dolphy, alto sax and flute and the legendary Dannie Richmond on drums. These players were part of the 1964 quintet and sextet that toured Europe; there were no amps, only mics. Mingus, like Danny Thompson, was a loud double bassist though, so no worries on him not being heard.

‘Celia’, is the only newly written track for this record and when it goes it to the hard swing, it feels great, I love the muted trumpets and stabs. Written for a former wife, it's gentle and loving, the alto sax solo brings a ray of sunshine into my day.

'Mood Indigo' written by big band master Duke Ellington. Mingus saw Ellington as the best, and it's hard to argue really, I for one wouldn't argue with Mingus. The sparsely accompanied bass solo by light piano and brushes on the drums, is truly wonderful, so lyrical and expressive. I love how Mingus bends, not only the strings but sometimes, it feels like he's bending his bass. Mingus is a dynamic player, with something to say. The following piano solo, could be off any Oscar Peterson record, lovely.

'Mood Indigo'.

Better Get Hit In Yo' Soul', Oh yes the bass drives this track, It's fierce, and its hard swing is sublime, so fast and in 6/8, the whole track feels like a gospel tune, Mingus is hollering, and at points, it sounds like different members of the band are too, 'can I get a witness' sort of vibe. The ending is class too, a real feeling of a group having fun, going into four at the end.

‘Better Get Hit In Yo Soul'.

'Theme for Lester Young', is in fact 'Goodbye Porkpie Hat', initially off the album 'Mingus Ah Um' and written in 1959 as an elegy for Tenor Saxophonist Lester Young. Young had died a few months before, and the night Mingus heard of his passing he sketched this tune. Covered by many great artists including Joni Mitchell with another bass legend Jaco Pastorius.

‘Goodbye Porkpie Hat’ Live at Montreux 1975.

‘Hora Decubitus’, means ‘at bedtime’. That wonderful bass intro, yet again a really hard swing. ‘Hora Decubitus’ is a reworking of ‘E's Flat, Ah's Flat Too', from the 'Blues & Roots' album. The solos are on fire here, Booker Ervin, tenor sax, Eric Dolphy, alto sax and the blistering trumpet solo by Richard Williams. The track ends like a train leaving the tracks at speed, collective and organised chaos.

‘Hora Decubitus’.

'Freedom', this track has Charles Mingus narrating as well playing the double bass, feels very gospel. It also highlights what it must have been like being black in America at this time, with despicable racism at nearly every turn.

Mingus was an angry man; in fact, Mingus was known as 'the angry man of jazz' often berating members of his band onstage. Mingus would not musically compromise and would not tolerate anything but 100% from his musicians. His autobiography 'Beneath the underdog', is a hard book to read and I only made it through some of it, it's a sprawling, a stream of consciousness and reveals many dark and challenging things. Mingus sadly developed 'ALS’, and this eventually rendered it impossible for him to play the double bass. Mingus died in Mexico aged 56, at the time he was working on Joni Mitchell’s ‘Mingus’ album with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius.

Charles Mingus's sextet in Europe 1964, fantastic viewing.

Hope you enjoy. JP X

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Dig it out and re-listen, or if you've not heard it buy it. Hope everyone is well, sort of same still. JP X

'Blue' is a big album for me; it was my way into the music and songs of Joni Mitchell. Not only an incredible songwriter but a unique acoustic guitarist, often tuning the guitar in totally unusual ways, giving her access to notes, chords, progressions and melodies, you'd be hard to find in any other way.

Blue is a very stripped back album instrumentally, leaving so much space for Joni's voice, in the early seventies her voice was at the height of its powers. I guess I'd describe this album as singer/songwriter folk, but at times, like John Martyn, there is a flavouring of jazz, both chordally and in the vocal melody, to be honest, when music is this good, titles seem irrelevant.

Recorded in 1971, after a year off to travel around Europe. 'Blue' is Joni Mitchell's fourth record and is considered by many as one of, not only her best but as one of the best albums ever made.

'All I Want', opens this album with a wonderfully hooky, acoustic guitar, dulcimer and minimal percussion. I never realised that James Taylor played guitar on this track, on closer listening, I can hear it now. James Taylor and Joni were a couple at this time; this track is about him. By all accounts, this was quite an intense relationship; during this time, James Taylor was also a heroin addict. This song is love in three verses, its adorable lines 'I wanna talk to you, I wanna shampoo you, I wanna renew you again and again'. 'When I think of your kisses, my mind see-saws'. Describing perfectly, being loved up. Even on this optimistic note though, the song still has a shade of blue within it, there's loneliness, jealousy and hurt too. I think it perfectly captures the myriad emotions of falling in love with someone.

‘All I want’. A really interesting early version.

'My Old Man', apparently written about Graham Nash, who Joni was in a relationship with before she travelled around Europe. Joni on piano, it's wonderful, her voice is perfect, capturing all the emotion in this song perfectly. It contains my favourite line 'He's the warmest chord I ever heard, play that warm chord, play and stay, baby'. The blues though is never far away, and Joni captures that feeling of being separated from your loved one, 'the bed's too big, the frying pan’s too wide'. Who's not been there? Followed by quite an unusual piano run into the next verse. It feels like a song about her man's inability to commit to a relationship, and Joni seems dependant on this relationship to stay happy, which is making her more miserable. The piano at the end is slightly jarring, almost sarcastic.

'My old man' The piano intro is amazing, it's a great insight to hear these songs played before they're finished.

‘Little Green’. Such a deeply personal song. Written in 1966 when Joni signed the papers to put her daughter up for adoption. Just acoustic guitar and vocal but that vocal melody for the chorus is divine. The lyrics are so powerful, like so many tracks on this record, there's hope but an undercurrent of sadness, an accurate depiction of life.

'Little Green' Interesting reharmonization of the chorus, Joni seems always to be searching for something.

‘Carey’, Is a total contrast of a song, has a real hippie vibe and is about a relationship with a cane carrying chief in a hippie commune named Cary Raditz, he was nicknamed "carrot Raditz" as he had bright red hair. I just long to go to the 'Mermaid Café' and see a young Joni Mitchell play.

'Carey' Live in 1983 played on the Appalachian Dulcimer.

'Blue'. Just relistening to it now, that strange jazzy chord at the end I've never noticed before. This song is heartbreaking. Is Blue a person? A mood? I love the coupling of songwriting being like tattoos, for a song to stick, it has to leave its mark, get under your skin. She then links this with the sea and sailors. ‘Songs are like tattoos You know I've been to sea before, Crown and anchor me, Or let me sail away'.

‘Blue’ that first note.

'California' A song of wanting to go back to California, homesick perhaps? Written while in France, feels like a travel journal in the form of a song. The music manages to catch the sunny vibe of California; I think a lot of this is due to the subtle and light drumming of Russ Kunkel, wonderfully played. The bridge when the pedal steel comes is gorgeous too. The vocal refrain at the end has the seeds of another song in it. James Taylor reappears on guitar, what a fine player.

‘California’ Live on the Johnny Cash TV Show.

'This Flight Tonight'. A song with a guitar bottom string tuned to a low G, pretty unusual. The guitar is tuned GGDGBD; she places a capo on the first fret making it AbAbEbAbCEb, highlighting what an inventive guitarist she is. A song about leaving a lover on a flight and she regrets it. This was a massive hit for a rock band from Scotland called 'Nazareth'.

‘Nazareth’s version. Just brilliant.

‘River’. Joni Mitchell’s Christmas song, more a song set around Christmas rather than about Christmas. I love the chorus lines’ Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on’ There’s a real beauty to the altered version of ‘Jingle bells’. Her vocal delivery is sublime, the note she hits on ‘Fly’, amazing. A song of regret, the confusing, mixed paradoxical feelings of leaving someone you love.

‘River’ Live at the Royal Albert Hall

'A case of you'. Recorded with Joni playing the Appalachian Dulcimer and James Taylor playing acoustic guitar. 'If I could drink a case of you, I'd still be on my feet' What a line. Another song attributed to the relationship break up of Joni and Graham Nash. There's more of a bitterness in this song, not only in the wine but in the line 'stay with him and be prepared to bleed'. Ellie Golding had a number one with this song in 2019; it's one of Joni's must covered songs, even covered by Prince no less. I do like the Tori Amos version myself.

‘A case of you’ Live

'The Last Time I Saw Richard'. Lyrically this song fits well with the way Tom Waits writes about characters in songs, very descriptive, perfectly written and blue. Rumoured to be written about her brief marriage. The bitterness oozes out of the male character; I hope I've never been like this.

‘The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in '68 And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café You laugh he said you think you're immune Go look at your eyes they're full of moon You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you All those pretty lies pretty lies When you gonna realise they're only pretty lies Only pretty lies just pretty lies’

'The Last Time I Saw Richard' Live

On listening to this album again, I'm now going to dig into the Mitchell archives; there's a live album I've not heard before. 'Miles of Aisles'.

Happy Listening


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This week's Listening Closely is a superb, Grammy award-winning album by Tom Waits, 'Mule Variations'. Released in 1999 this was a return to form in a big way. It was Tom Waits' 12th studio album his first since the 1993's 'The Black Rider', which was a much more difficult album to break the back of. This album has a real organic feel to it and the songs are some of my favourites that he's ever recorded. I recently got hold of the remastered version on heavyweight vinyl, the difference in audio quality is unreal, the double bass hums and vibrates beautifully.

"Big in Japan", opens the record and Tom Waits is literally smashing the crap out of a chest of draws and gutturally chanting, distortedly creating a crazy vocal beatbox which is looped throughout the track; the louder you play it, the better. Such an exciting way to start a record. Joined by Primus's bassist Les Claypool and guitarist Larry LaLonde, they create a world of angular guitar and melodically impressive double bass, this alongside some primal drumming by Brian Mantia and awesome soul horn parts by Ralph Carney. This track fits perfectly in the canon of the outstanding Tom Waits repertoire; it would fit very easily on the equally impressive 'Rain Dogs' album, well worth checking out if you've not heard it. Lyrically it superbly catches the musician that is all style and no substance, leaving Waits to brandish that it doesn’t matter because ‘I’m big in Japan’.

“Lowside of the road' is a dirty Texan blues, apparently based on a story involving Lead Belly in 1930, when a group of white men jumped him, he produced his guitar slide, which was a penknife, he ended up going to jail for attempted murder.

For me Tom Waits writes ballads best, ‘Soldier’s things’, ‘Time’, Kentucky Avenue’, to name a few. Waits can transport you on a heart-breaking journey, especially for the lost, drunk, hurt and the wandering aimless. Which moves us on to my favourite track on Mule Variations, ‘Hold On’. With the legend Mark Ribot on guitar, this track is sublime, the guitar sound, the double bass and the gravel drenched vocal. Lyrically this is a master class, so descriptive and unique. This is Tom Waits at his hopeful best, a song that feels like an imperative at the moment.

Well, you build it up, you wreck it down You burn your mansion to the ground When there's nothing left to keep you here, when You're falling behind in this Big blue world

Oh you got to Hold on, hold on You got to hold on Take my hand

I'm standing right here You got to hold on

I love the mood of the video for it too. The colour is perfect. “Hold On”

"Get Behind The Mule". It sounds like a Taj Mahal track, Has the wonderful double bass playing of Larry Taylor, who has been on so many great Tom Waits records. This track also features the Harp of Charlie Musselwhite. A lot of the tracks on this record are a collaboration between Tom Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan and they also produced this record.

'House Where Nobody Lives'. Waits is on piano, the first track on this record is very reminiscent of earlier Tom Waits. It's loving and poignant, the house feels like a metaphor for loneliness and abandonment “Without love, it ain’t nothing but a house”. Fans of Foy Vance may like this song; it reminds me of 'I was made' off Foy Vance's first and best record ‘Hope’.

“House where Nobody Lives”

'Cold Water'. We've all been there. For me, Mark Ribot’s Sexy distorted guitar riff makes this track.

"Pony". Pony is a well-lived life, far from home. There are definitely times I hope my pony knows the way back home. I relate to this, as a once road-weary double bass player, you get those long drives home after a terrible gig, paid poorly, you're full questions, reflections and not quite hope.

“What’s He Building In There”. Pure experimentation, I love it, I’ve definitely wanted to know what my neighbours are doing in their sheds. Brilliantly theatrical. Like a horrifically dark American movie. It’s what happens when you let your mind get the better of you.

"What's he building in there? We have a right to know".

“What’s He Building In There”

"Black Market Baby". Sleazy romance. “She’s a diamond who wants to stay coal".

"Eyeball Kid" Sounds like it should be on the album "Bone Machine" The hypnotic percussion and chanting alongside, the angular guitar and innovative use of turntables.

"Picture Is A Frame". This is classic barroom Tom Waits, "I'm gonna love you till the wheels come off". I love the double bass tone, played by Greg Cohen; nothing is overproduced here. Great piano sound too with all the creeks and rattles which bring out the character, so refreshing to hear. Baritone sax would be one of the instruments I would love to play if I wasn't already taken. This record is anything but sanitised and is therefore perfect for vinyl.

“Picture Is A Frame”

“Chocolate Jesus”. There's something very tongue n cheek about this, a sweet deity. Recorded outside with an actual crow, crowing in the background.

“Georgia Lee” Written about a 12-year-old girl Georgia Lee Moses, who in 1997 disappeared and then was found nine days later murdered in ‘a small grove of trees’. No one was ever convicted of this horrific crime. It's a plea for answers to God asking "Why wasn't God watching? Why wasn't God there for Georgia Lee?" It reminds me of Stephen Fry's comments about why he doesn't believe in a God. The family couldn't even afford a funeral, and the community rallied to pay for it.