Duke Ellington/Charles Mingus/Max Roach: Money Jungle

Sometimes a summit meeting like this one between Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach is a better idea on paper than it turns out to be in the execution. That, however, is not the case with this particular project,in which Ellington proves himself not only as a first-rate pianist but also as a visionary who could keep up with anything the younger generation may have thrown his way. The album was, in fact, one of several that marked Ellington’s collaboration with other jazz heavyweights, the others being Duke Ellington meets Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, which was recorded just nine days after this recording was completed.

The original Money Jungle album contained seven tracks (the first seven presented here), all Ellington compositions, most of them new. The well-known tracks are “Caravan,” given a vigorous workout by this trio, “Warm Valley,” and “Solitude.” The rest of the compositions are new and very forward-looking. Most are not what you’d call “typical” Ellington (whatever that is). “Money Jungle” jumps forth with a modernism that is palpable, and the rhythmic interplay between Ellington and Roach is most sympathetic.

“Fleurette Africaine” contains some very sophisticated, modern harmonies, and has been recorded by such performers as Gary Burton and Michel Petrucciani. “Wig Wise,” which is almost Cecil Taylor-esque in its style has been interpreted by pianist Jason Moran. “Very Special” is a blues, and as such not particularly novel, but the solid playing by all three members of the trio makes the song true to its title. Indeed, there is little recorded Mingus playing that is better than his work on this album. Given the heavy influence that Ellington had upon him as a composer and arranger, this must have been an auspicious occasion for him.

The additional tracks excavated from he vaults here are all blues, and while they are not particularly memorable as compositions, the playing of all three musicians is well worth the listen. “Switch Blade” begins with a Mingus bass solo and then shifts into a mid-tempo blues that gives Ellington a chance to show his boogie and stride influences. “A Little Max (Parfait)” is a vehicle for some of Roach’s superb drum figures to come to the forefront. “REM Blues” and “Backward Country Boy Blues” are perhaps the least memorable, but still worth hearing given the historic nature of the trio involved. The four alternate takes–“Solitude,” “Switch Blade,” “A Little Max,” and “REM Blues” add little to the overall package.

Money Jungle has often been ignored as a recording and there have been stories regarding the difficulties in recording a group with egos as big as these. Listening to the seven tracks that comprise the original album with gloriously remastered sound, the importance of this recording as a historic artifact, as a Duke Ellington piano session, and as a unique trio recording becomes apparent. 

Money Jungle is a classic jazz recording that deserves to be heard more than it has been in the past, and this reissue should make that possible for a whole new generation of jazz fans.

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