Um... Er... Uh...
I have a friend that's compiled a list of songs that remind her of being in Pier One Imports. Somewhere on that list, among the inevitable Police and Simply Red tracks, is Julian Lennon's "Too Late for Goodbyes." Poor kid: his father changed rock music forever, and he's just a guy who reminds a friend of mine of some whitebread home decor chain.
This is not to say that I think Julian Lennon's music is due for a re-evaluation. But you have to feel for these kids-- the progeny of musical icons who, for whatever reason, follow in their famous parents' footsteps. I mean, what a crappy way to start a career: defending your work against insane expectations as soon as your first album hits the shelves. Julian probably would've been better off as a dentist, you know, but I'm sure he never felt like he had much of a choice-- raised famous, expected to take over his father's business, and destined to fail. Or at least to achieve a level of success that seems like failure in light of his genealogy.
So, here's Eric Mingus, whose father arguably did for jazz much of what John Lennon did for rock, making a decidedly ill-advised move and releasing an album. What's worse, it's basically a jazz record. And crazier still, the stupid kid goes and plays double-bass on it. Which is just plain asking for it, really.
But he seems to have lucked out in a couple of ways. First of all, a lot of the reviews of Um... Er... Uh... thus far have been written by people largely unaware of just how monumental a figure Charles Mingus was. This is totally out of Eric's control, of course, but it's a dodged bullet nonetheless. More importantly, though, he seems to have actually inherited some of his dad's talent, and to have spent a good deal of time and energy developing it. And somebody in his ancestry left him with the voice of a wayward Baptist preacher: gritty but smooth, soulful but somehow lascivious.
Um... Er... Uh... seems like a pretty straightforward record. Most songs feature a traditional unit of drums, bass, sax and trumpet, with Mingus singing or speaking. The overall feel is loose and improvisational, but rooted in well-charted territory. There's jazz here for sure, but there's also R&B, acid jazz and gospel. Plus, Eric seems to share his father's penchant for taking vernacular forms and giving them an avant-garde twist. "Romantic Fool," for example, is a straight-up soul slow jam which happens to feature a bass solo that's been so electronically altered that the instrument sounds like a bizarre kazoo. The contributions of electronic artist Mocean Worker help rough things up a little as well, and give the album some unexpected textures.
Mingus' lyrics occasionally grate, falling into the sort of preachy sing-song that mars so much spoken word. But for every cringe, there are enough surprising turns of phrase to balance things out. The excellent "His Blood's in Me"-- set to some Tom Waits-esque noise-mongering-- avoids all the pitfalls and manages to be confrontational and melancholy without becoming ridiculous. "Grey... Was Never So Color... Full..." is what all unaccompanied spoken word should be: rhythmic and inventive, with no trace of college-town coffee house goofiness.
But does Eric live up to his father's standards? Well, of course not. Charles Mingus recorded over a hundred albums, wrote something like 300 original compositions, and played sideman to the greatest jazz musicians the world is likely to ever see. It's crazy to judge this album by those standards. Eric's off to a good start, though. And at the very least, Um... Er... Uh... will never remind anybody of a trip to Pier One.
- Zach Hooker
Eric Dolphy Mingus
Eric Dolphy Mingus, (not to be confused with "free jazz" pioneer, alto saxophonist, flutist and clarinetist, Eric Dolphy, or legendary pianist, bassist and father, Charles) released his second album a mere two days ago on Some Records. Um...Er...Uh doesn't fit peacefully into one style or another. It's not straight jazz and it's not pure blues or R&B. It's more beat-like spoken word stuff played coffee-shop style, atop this kind of mellowed out, urban jazz thang. If you've never heard or seen him before, it's going to be a bit of a chore describing him to you.
I'm still not sure what kind of musician he is. (Perhaps that's part of the whole genre-bending shtick.) I mean, he plays a stand-up bass probably a heredity thing, but then he also sings, and... well, talks. He's a vocal improvisationalist. Yeah, that's it, a vocal improvisationalist who plays bass while he's at it. I suppose he can best be described as a poet... with musical tendencies. Or maybe he fits within that whole performance art realm. Oh, fuck it... He's just an artist. Just like the rest of us.
Um... Er... Uh
Born to Charles and Judith Mingus the sweltering New York summer of '64, Eric grew up on music as if it was a life necessity, like food or shelter. He did a brief stint, studying voice and bass at Berklee College in '85 and then hit the road with musical wordswith Bobby McFerrin, and hyper-modern jazz pianist, Carla Bley, among others. He's been on his own since his first release also on Some Records, a seven-inch called, "How I Miss My Gun." And now with the release of Um...Er...Uh, he's on an extensive tour in Europe. He's in Italy (just in case you are too) until the end of the month, and then he's back in his hometown at the Knitting Factory in New York on July 2nd. Check it.
The track available for download, "His Blood's In Me," is a grim and somber but totally accessible take on a few scattered but connected moments in his life. Like in many of his pieces, Eric acts as a social commentator, critiquing the status quo with his own life as his ammunition. The song opens with "His blood's in me" repeating over and over leaving you wondering uncomfortably. Then comes "Grandpa blew his brains out in the house" and your heart sinks. "He didn't have the courtesy to take it outside... Now his stupidity is splattered on walls for grandma to stare at and think about whether she should move..." And that's moment one. Then, "...all that marching, all that yelling, cries for equal rights, and I could still see the puzzled looks as I clung to my father's hand, little white boy, dangle. No officer, he really is my father. It's okay son, we're here now, this nigger can't hurt you." Moment two passes with your heart sinking deeper. Finally, "This officer, I scared him. Hell I could be fucking his daughter and he'd never know the connection. I always imagine the look on his face when a black baby dropped out of his fair-haired princess." And to complete the circle, "...Grandpa blew his brains out in the house... I keep finding the pieces, everywhere."
And so the song ends, leaving your heart writhing with a confused and impersonal anger. But he's not telling you these things for your comfort. The less comfortable you feel, the better. Cause that means he's stirred your thoughts, and as he ends track 12 on Um...Er...Uh, "Reject this reality. Question your freedom."