Positive Feedback Logo

Mingus' Ah Um - A Terrific New Pure DSD256 Reissue from HDTT

02-11-2023 | By Rushton Paul | Issue 125

When HDTT issues a Redux edition of an album I’ve liked, I always pay attention. I’ve yet to be disappointed with the improvements Bob Witrak has been able to wring from the source tapes. I thought this release was excellent before. In this updated version the sound quality clearly goes up a notch, if not three. In this case, the tape transfer is improved from DSD128 to DSD256, a new 15ips tape has been found, and we now have the original cover art.

Ah Um, Charles Mingus and company. HDTT Redux edition 1959 2023 (Pure DSD256) HERE

Bob confirmed to me via an email that this transfer is from a new 15ips 2-track tape he was given access to for this transfer. This tape sounds amazing. So the sound improvement is not just the change from DSD128 to DSD256 on the transfer, it is the phenomenal new 15ips source tape. 

And, oh my, does this sound good! As clean, clear, dynamic and natural sounding as one might ever hope to hear. Comparisons to the various CD digital releases are simply not worth talking about, and I have a bunch of them. 

The new source tape does have different track lengths than found on HDTT's original release, as explained on the album page: The album's original release featured edited versions of six of the nine compositions. For these tracks, from one to three minutes of the performances were removed, either to meet the playing time constraints of the LP format or because producer Teo Macero felt the pieces were more effective in edited form. The tracks on this release are based on the edited versions that were on the original release.

As the liner notes state, "It simply isn't possible to single out one Mingus album as definitive, but Mingus Ah Um comes the closest."

Mingus is at top creative form in this album, his debut on the Columbia label. If you're looking for a place to start your exploration of why Mingus is such a force in jazz, this album is perhaps your best entry point. The music is accessible, there are great tunes, it offers a huge variety of ideas, moods and instrumental colors. Possibly his best album overall is Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, but it is a more challenging album to get into as a first time listen to the music of Charles Mingus. It will be worth the effort, at some point, however.

The band includes longtime Mingus stalwarts already well versed in his music, like saxophonists John Handy, Shafi Hadi, and Booker Ervin; trombonists Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis; pianist Horace Parlan; and drummer Dannie Richmond. Their razor-sharp performances tie together what may well be Mingus' greatest, most emotionally varied set of compositions. At least three became instant classics, starting with the irrepressible spiritual exuberance of signature tune "Better Get It in Your Soul," taken in a hard-charging 6/8 and punctuated by joyous gospel shouts. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" is a slow, graceful elegy for Lester Young, who died not long before the sessions. The sharply contrasting "Fables of Faubus" is a savage mockery of segregationist Arkansas governor Orval Faubus, portrayed musically as a bumbling vaudeville clown (the scathing lyrics, censored by skittish executives, can be heard on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus). The underrated "Boogie Stop Shuffle" is bursting with aggressive swing, and elsewhere there are tributes to Mingus' most revered influences: "Open Letter to Duke" is inspired by Duke Ellington and "Jelly Roll" is an idiosyncratic yet affectionate nod to jazz's first great composer, Jelly Roll Morton. (from enclosed booklet)

I would be hard pressed to identify a favorite track from this group. These are all exceptionally fine, highly focused, and supremely well sculpted compositions. And with the band members assembled, there is an overall spontaneity to the performances that make this album highly addictive for me.

Of course, in listening to this new release, I could not resist traversing some of the other reissues of this album in my collection. Can I be inclined to prefer the longer versions of several of these tracks (found on the originally released HDTT DSD128 album, or the Columbia Legacy CD, or the SACD)? Yes, perhaps. When the music is this good, it's hard to argue with getting a bit more in some of the tunes. But, the sound quality of this release is just SOOOOOO far superior, that I have little inclination to dwell elsewhere. 

If you listen to vinyl and have one of the several 45 rpm reissues (ORG, Classic Records, Mobile Fidelity), you may well find yourself content to stay where you are in terms of having ultimate sound quality for this album. But if you are a digital listener, and if you like Mingus, you will definitely want to download this new Pure DSD256 release from HDTT. Around our listening space, and with our playback system, it just doesn't get any better than what we're hearing from this album.