Selected Works: I Reject This Reality - Eric Mingus (self released)
Even if you don’t like what people call jazz, you’ll react to "I Reject This Reality". It’s far more honest, creative, exciting and interesting than dealing with those talentless oiks, berks and preening nobodies on the telly. Talk about too much methane in a fartbubble - hell, how many channels do we have these days? And how much is really, truly, actually worth watching? Are we children or goldfish to be distracted so long and so often by such bling? Life’s far, far too short. Dig "I Reject This Reality", it’s far more grown-up.
You may recognise the surname. Eric’s dad was famous, and groundbreaking at a time when ground needed to be broken, and the world watched with bated breath for every new jazz development.
Jazz, that is, real jazz, not that muck you hear in shopping malls, nor that cheery "trad jazz" stuff which seems so much part of the everyday background now, is now a rare thing. There is no longer a huge, rollercoasting movement like there was from the twenties to the sixties. This isn’t a new concept; you can say that the rollercoaster of punk and new wave more or less shivered, then sort of dawdled forward from, say, late 1984 (notwithstanding there were still brilliant bands and lps, the tidal wave was receding from the foothills, only to begin to gain momentum in Japan when nobody in The West was looking).
I won’t put a date on the dawdling on jazz, of course, because it moved in a far too splintered manner than punk did, but the '70s and that dreadful fusion "movement" (where the boring bits of everything seemed to meet and decide to wait for a train whilst scratching or picking their nose instead of forging a vicious, huge alliance), and the even more hateful prog-rock thing (look, I do appreciate Keith Emerson’s talent but enough, enough, enough … and don’t get me started on Robin Trower) made me, as a callow music-loving child, extremely suspicious of anything termed jazz unless it was from the 1920s-'40s because, by 1974, it seemed to have left the building.
However. I was in my late teens when I discovered Schubert’s "Impromptus" and Thelonious Monk’s Blue Note recordings the same month. (Exquisite piano pieces, in case you’re not familiar.) I jumped for joy. Along the way I started to investigate, and discovered other jazz musicians, Eric’s father among the comparative few I claimed as my own.
The world is not peering over Eric Mingus’ shoulders, nor is his every band dissected by buffs around the world in learned journals. This is a jolly good thing. Eric Mingus is not his father but is much more; he is, shall we say, a wayward and complicated genius. I last reviewed his interpretation of the Who’s Tommy here in Adelaide a few years ago (if you missed it, tough, the eastern states weren’t considered hep enough) and that cemented my admiration for Eric Mingus as both a broad-based musician and arranger, but also as a man of passion, charm and plain love of life.
So let’s assume we haven’t heard these songs from other places, and just dig the man. And, let’s call him Mingus. Because that’s who he is.
The first song, "His Blood’s In Me", is about as intimate as you can get; on the one hand you think it’ll be directly about the man himself (and perhaps, in an oblique way, it is), but the wonderful harmonies and the growling build-up are make this a narrative song par excellence. I’d raise comparisons but it would be futile. Mingus is clearly a man with many influences - certainly not just his father. He makes his own, unique, immediate and accessible music and tells songs and stories that make your head spin. "I Reject This Reality" is the kind of album I love to discover - forward, forceful, teasing, smart, complex and reeking of a different worldview.
And then there’s lyrics like "there’s a hatred mixed in with my complexion/ the face of ancestors I know nothing about stare back at me in the mirror…" delivered matter-of-factly. Spoiler Alert: this is part of the ending. ‘grandpa blew his brains out in the house / I keep finding the pieces/ everywhere’. And this is the opening track, girls and boys. And there’s 19 in total here…
I’ve always loathed the bogus, whinging term "ball and chain", figuring it’s just lame justification for a man to be a dick. "Ball and Chain" is an old device, but Mingus brings a new sense and intelligence to it, and his voice pours out just as well as Joe Cocker (and for my taste, better, but you may differ), with this huge, multiple octave range rolling up and down like a dragster on the strip. From its opening soft bass pulse and a low moaning tone we are lead into another story, filled with grim, meaty passion. As you’d guess, it’s a blues-jazz piece, but if you chuck anything this Mingus does into a niche, you’re a fool.
If anything, I’d argue that in many ways this modern Mingus is more switched-on, grounded, than his father; there’s far more for us to connect with here, personally, than ‘just jazz’; and let’s face it, only very strange people listen exclusively to jazz; mind you the same can be said for those who only listen to straight rock’n’roll, or those bland radio stations, or hardcore punk. I don’t understand the constancy - life has multiple shades, shadows, colours. Music seeks to reflect those experiences. Few musicians get near doing that, fewer write their own lyrics successfully as well. Even those individuals we laud as groundbreaking geniuses have a key area of expertise which they continue to use, almost to the point of mimicry, or unintentional self-parody. Bowie, Dylan, Stones, AC/DC, Cave are all culpable. It’s like they’re on a treadmill, repeating themselves. There are ‘visual artists’ which have done the same. Hell, I’m sure you can write your own lengthy list.
Right now, I’m sitting here gobsmacked, completely gobsmacked by "I Reject This Reality", and we’re only two songs in. Where else will it take us?
"Rubber Soles" is somewhere between funk and stream-of-consciousness jazz. It’s a pun, of course, and we’re instantly right in the scene, right in New York’s subway, drenched in pop jest and ironic observation. Very, very seldom does the spoken-word-with-music thing work - this is because once you know the words, you get it and you don’t need the punchline. Not here. This is the real, vivid, full-on bop shit that Kerouac was so enamoured of. I’ll take Mingus over the majority of Ginsberg any damn day; when Mingus explains, "...brown bag beverages/ tap out rhythms to a tomb within/ trying to ease the beat of anger/ the heat seems to make us aware of our skin/ the heat out here brings out the heat inside/ rubber soles dangling" we’re just in awe. The sheer clarity of his observation brings out goosebumps, never mind the music.
"Shake Up the World" takes a similar basic approach, this one more voice-directed; Mingus sounds like a sort of presidential candidate with a lowdown on the beat world. By contrast, the title track, "I Reject this Reality", is an ugly little rippler, much closer to a song… Mingus uses powerful, relentless bass rhythms in a way you don’t expect - and with instruments you don’t expect, neither. For example, his synth commentaries and emotive echoes are extremely well-done; when they’re to the fore, they work as the world’s background chatter; you find yourself listening to separate parts to see how everything all fits in. Yes, it’s not a case of whether I’ll return to "I Reject This Reality" but how often.
There’s a real rage in Mingus, unlike that of professional punk bands "playing the industry game" (I’m sure you can think of one or two); what we dig most here is that Mingus is a well-read, well-rounded man whose intelligence is above the average. His lyrics, written down, might not appear to get you dancing in the way that the boy bands do (The Barman’s secret stash will one day be revealed), but Mingus delivers them in an inarguable fashion, and his music is marvellously constructed;
"lost in this electronic labyrinth/ seeking the voice of human contact/ the value isn’t in your person/ the value is not even in your soul/ at least that’s what it feels like/ we have become masters of distraction/ masters of our own demise/ hours upon hours wasted/ wasted/ wasted"
Now, if you’ve ever heard any of the beat poets speak, you’ll recognise an … approach here. When you hear Mingus deliver himself to you, you might compare the word to that of a rational Baptist preacher (I’m sure there must be at least one) sobered to the point of superb clarity with roots in bop, blues, scat, soul, funk and beat.
If that sounds a little bit like I’m laying it on, or that such a big rich platter would be too confused to contemplate, never mind digest - well, that’s why I’m taking the time to pour praise upon Mingus. No-one else that I can think of is doing this, or has done it.
"Grey … Was Never So Color … Full" is pure spoken word, with a little bit of reverb. Spoken word is usually quite dull. But Grey is like a spoken song; or perhaps a verbal note to self. The chorus?
"Boom taka ti, taka boom, taka ti, taka boom; Boom taka ti, taka boom, taka ti, taka … pause."
The subject is Mingus and his art, how it links in with the living things around him, his anger, his love. The ending is deadpan humour at its peak:
"You like my art? You can have it for 50 dollars. White was never so … soulful."
And you know? Between the lines I reckon there’s other things going on, a city block’s worth of people and dreams and tragedies to discover. Barely over two minutes, instead of a ramonesish blur, we’re digging a piece which takes its time, delivers meaning, fun in its humour and delivery and a rhythm as simple as anything da brudders came up with. Just as good.
This is a profoundly brilliant lp; you don’t have to work at it as it walks right up and says gidday, then takes you on a series of journeys. It’s like being in your own film. (c’mon, how many of you have ever listened properly to Beefheart’s ‘Trout Mask Replica’? And of those of you, how many had to work at it to get it? Beefheart was profound, but to a lot of people he’s unlistenable in his deliberately wayward skronk kook).
No, again I’m going to leave you here, six tracks out of 19, stranded in the jungle. Get your card out and get either the disc or the download. It ain’t expensive and it’ll be the best buy you’ll make all year. ‘I Reject This Reality’ is the real deal, the heart and soul of jazz, shoved out through a man who doesn’t need the publicity, so (unfortunately) won’t turn up on your mainstream radar any time soon. That said, he might turn up on movie soundtracks. Get it.
Seven bottles (of the most expensive alcohol you ever fancied trying)
Buy it on Bandcamp
Tags: punk, jazz, eric mingus, selected works
- No comments found