Charles Mingus – Three or Four Shades of Blues


The multipartite “Three or Four Shades of Blues” and upbeat “Nobody Knows” are the best songs here because eccentricity is Charles Mingus’ forte and electricity (as in electric guitars) – used here for the first time in his discography – are not, and these songs feature less of them than the other three. That being said, I really dislike Bob Neloms’ piano solo on the title track (1:40 – 3:53) because he sounds like a discount Jaki Byard (the opening chords alone make me want to go listen to “Shine On Me” Instead). Thankfully, the section right after has Neloms flourishing before Charles Mingus reveals his ace in the hole: horns playing Eastern melodies buoyed by Western guitars over a bouncy rhythm. In other words, “Three or Four Shades of Blues” is Charles Mingus’ own “Brownsville Girl” (by Bob Dylan), that is to say, a surprisingly good song on one of the artist’s worst albums that’s only marred by its unfortunate length.

And … I just revealed my hand, but the rest of this album sucks. There are a lot of people who think that “selling out” is an abstract idea; that we can never know what the artist’s true intentions were unless publicly stated. Yeah, no: how about an artist who’s avoided using electric guitars in his repertoire so far watching the rest of his contemporaries do it and make money off it and then deciding to cut an album with three guitarists on it and then making the best-selling album of his career? My heart breaks on the spot when a guitarist does the hook on “Better Git Hit in Your Soul”; the two guitarists wanking over one another in a desperate attempt to prove their stoic heterosexuality throughout the song causes cardiac arrest and the final cadence drawn out over ten fucking seconds is the soundtrack before rigor mortis. “Goodbye, Porkpie Hat” sounds abnormal, and “Noddin Ya Head Blues” plods for forever. Reactionary instead of revolutionary. His best selling album at the time? Fucks’ sake.


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