Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Weird Nightmare | Meditations On Mingus

Of the three Hal Willner tribute albums I have (posted) this is my favorite. I was searching for a copy of "Beneath The Underdog", a sales assistant at Mole Jazz Records, had warned me off the Penguin edition advising me it was an abridged version.  As the gods would have it, it was republished by Vintage books a few months into my search (around 1991) and this album followed shortly after.
What pulled me in to this recording was the strange instrumentation from instruments invented by
Harry Partch or mores to the point the excellent recording of these instruments. I'm not aware of Partch's instruments given this treatment but would be interested if anyone knows of other recordings of a similar bent. I remember some years later, dragging a girlfriend across London to watch a special presentation and film (can't remember what) on Harry Partch on one of the hottest nights of the year. The sound was irritatingly terrible as was the film presented in a room with no air-con, I think our next date was something along the lines of "it's not you it's me"...
As with the previous Hal Wilner tribute albums the line-up of musicians is pretty stellar.


Producer Hal Willner had created a reputation as a fascinating instigator, organizing homages to composers as diverse as Nino Rota and Thelonious Monk wherein he conscripted the services of musicians from all over the stylistic map, allowing them to bring their unique interpretations and approaches to bear on the subjects. For his Charles Mingus project, his central idea was as inspired as it was loony: to incorporate the amazing instruments invented and designed by another equally maverick composer, Harry Partch, into reinterpretations of Mingus' work. By and large, it works, making Weird Nightmare a strange and wonderful one-off event. There's a central band at work based around bassist Greg Cohen and guitarist Bill Frisell, with guest stars, mostly from the rock world, including Robbie Robertson, Dr. John, Keith Richards, and Chuck D Highlights abound; when Partch's Marimba Eroica is struck during "Pithecanthropus Erectus," the floors of the listener's dwelling may buckle. Elvis Costello's reading of the title song is, well, eerily weird. One special high point is the version of "Gunslinging Bird" where text from Mingus' autobiographical Beneath the Underdog is angrily and righteously declaimed by Chuck D.; it's arguably as pure and forceful as anything he ever accomplished with Public Enemy and makes one wonder why he never pursued this seemingly rewarding path. There are several missteps as well, to be sure. Most egregiously, Keith Richards' sneering condescension on "Oh Lord, Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me," as though he had better things to do, is embarrassing. But eventually, it's simply the gorgeous music of Charles Mingus that carries the day, showing itself more than capable of shouldering the ghost of Harry Partch and the wayward inclinations of its interpreters. Most of the pieces glow in these unusual treatments, and make Weird Nightmare a must for any serious Mingus fan.

1. Canon (Part 1)
2. Meditations On Integration
3. Canon (Part 2)
4. Jump Monk
5. Weird Nightmare  
6. Work Song
7. Self-Portrait In 3 Colors
8. Purple Heart
9. Tonight At Noon
10. Gunslinging Bird
11. Weird Nightmare Interlude
12. Reincarnation Of A Lovebird / Haitian Fight Song Montage
13. Open Letter To Duke
14. The Shoes Of The Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers
15. Oh Lord, Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me
16. Eclipse
17. Pithecanthropus Erectus
18. Freedom
19. Weird Nightmare (Reprise)

Don Alias | Art Baron | Elvis Costello | Chuck D. 
Bill Frisell | Diamanda Galas | Dr. John | Bobby Previte
Vernon Reid | Marc Ribot | Robbie Robertson
Henry Rollins | Henry Threadgill
Full line up info

Composed by Charles Mingus

Produced by Hal Willner

Label: Columbia ‎– CK 52739
Format: 320
Country: US
Released: 1992
Genre: Jazz
Style: Jazz, Avant-Garde


  1. One of the finest albums ever - no household should be without it.

    Another example of Partch instruments used for other purposes than Partch were the japanese "pop" duo Syzygys, although I believe they only used the chromelodeon (sp?). Simple, catchy pop tunes with the microtonal Partch organ pretty much ensuring that they would never risk fame or fortune. It's great stuff. All their studio work was released on a single CD on John Zorn's Tzadik label

  2. hi Stylo, this is also one of my all-time favourites, I bought this set over 2 decades ago
    [:-) It has been on heavy rotation first couple of years I had it and still is quite enjoyable!
    Good choice and indeed comes very much recommended!
    peace, E-mile

  3. what a tremendous treat! thanks, stylo for this and the Amarcord.