Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Max RoachMoney Jungle (Blue Note)
It has been hailed by some as "one of the greatest piano trio recordings in jazz history," but no matter what your take is on this historic reissue from 1962, Money Jungle
commands attention for no other reason than it brought together a triumvirate of jazz giants for a one-off session that created music of roiling turbulence and delicate beauty. Also noteworthy is the fact that throughout his unparalleled, 50-year career, Duke Ellington rarely recorded in a trio setting, let alone one of this caliber. The session originally appeared on the now-long-defunct United Artist imprint, recorded between Ellington's masterful Impulse albums with Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane, and features an all-Ellington program of evergreens, unusually modernist compositions, and unremarkable blues. Drummer Max Roach once told me about the friction that accompanied the recording: how Ellington invited the others to bring individual compositions, then used only his own, and how he and bassist Charles Mingus had to fight for every inch of solo space. Roach described Mingus, a volatile time bomb under the best circumstances, at one point storming out of the session, and that it took Ellington's fatherly arm-around-the-shoulder and soothing words of praise and encouragement to bring the tearful titan back into the studio to complete the date. This "creative tension" is felt most acutely on the title track and on a tumultuous version of "Caravan," Ellington's uncharacteristically percussive syncopations keeping barely ahead of the thundering onslaught of Mingus and Roach. The trio also fashions beautifully complimentary renderings of Ellingtonia on "Solitude," "Fleurette Africaine," and "Warm Valley." Anyone doubting Ellington's prowess as an instrumentalist will be duly impressed by the command of his playing and the modernity of his ideas. After 40 years, Money Jungle
stands, more than ever, as a masterful meeting of jazz royalty.