Eric Mingus - Healin' Howl
Order number: INT 33922
I have a big name
Eric Mingus can certainly claim that in good conscience. But he does not just have a big name, he does it credit.
It does not take a jazz connoisseur to associate the name Mingus with one of the greatest bassists and most socially committed musicians in the history of jazz. Eric Jr. shares more with his father, Charles Mingus, than just his physical stature. He also inherited his father’s devotion to music, massive passion, profound connection to the spirit of tradition, disarming sincerity, and a genuine grounding. Musically, however, he goes in a completely different direction.
Eric Mingus is a blues singer, but his blues does not evoke the spirit of the cotton fields. Eric Mingus is an urban singer, who unites in his enormous body the entire power and contradictoriness of New York. In his music the Mississippi flows right into the Hudson River. Mingus is a Trojan lamb, behind whose soft facade one would not even sense the concentrated energy if he did not seek a vent for it in singing. Precisely because his respect for tradition is unlimited, he does not imitate but instead gives back from his own perspective what he received from it. Healin’ Howl is a blues album, but those who slavishly follow the alleged rules of the blues will encounter difficulties after just a few songs. “Blues for me is more than just a certain rhythm,” Mingus acknowledges. “Most of the songs are, however, written in typical blues rhythms. And yet you can always make something completely different out of it. For me, blues can be a poem or a bass line. A feeling that I can’t put into words, a hunch or a fear. Or simply freedom.” The poet comes through in this statement. But when he tries to pin down his personal relationship to the blues, Mingus sounds considerably more down-to-earth. “I have never claimed to be a jazz or blues musician. But I was always heavily influenced by the blues. Even when I wanted to, I could never deny that aspect. But I always look for musicians who don’t allow themselves to be defined by certain genres.”
Healin‘ Howl is Mingus‘s most relaxed album thus far. The heavyweight singer gets by without any superfluous avant-garde traits at all, and that is good for the songs. Mingus has left a lot of time for that. But a good song is like a good whiskey. The longer it matures, the better it gets. More convincingly then ever, the human volcano manages to get his emotional outbursts under control. It simmers, boils, and vibrates constantly in his music, but Mingus seems almost like an alchemist of the passions, who deals with spirit and karma like a magician with the elements. “I do in fact have a problem,” Mingus says, “with controlling my emotions. In some performances I exhaust myself after just two songs. Then my mental power is stronger than my physical power. It’s like battling with a dragon. The only way to get control over it is rigorously rehearsing and continually improving my singing.”
Hence the recordings took a long time. Healin‘ Howl is not one of those albums recorded in the studio in three days. The album has no defined theme, no central statement, but the main actor is Mingus’s voice. In Healin‘ Howl is filled with the not always streamlined and by no means political force of a completely normal life, with its high and low points.
For Eric Mingus, this record is in no small measure his constant coming to terms with himself. It is this healin‘ howl, which repeatedly grabs hold of this sensitive underdog with full force and drags him back into real life. “For me, this record has a logical flow,” Mingus agrees. “It describes certain periods I have gone through in recent years. I started with the recordings quite a while ago. But at some point I stopped making them and even wanted to return the advance. But then I regained confidence, looked through the material, and picked up the thread up again.”
Naturally someone like Eric Mingus is born to a musical career. But Mingus never made it easy on himself. He didn’t slip into his father’s shoes but pulled on his own boots. He first came to attention in Karen Mantler’s project My Cat Arnold. On his two solo records, Um . . . Er . . . Uh . . . (2000) and Too Many Bullets . . . Not Enough Soul (2002) he explored a mixture of blues and avant-garde jazz. Yet he was always a storyteller. With the casualness of an earthquake he tells about everyday emotions. Sometimes his short stories are accompanied only by bass. An echo of the glowing core of the earth, inviolable and eternal. His songs are frequently interspersed with spoken word pieces in which Mingus’s vocal cry is manifested so urgently that he sends chills down his listeners’ backs. “I always had spoken word pieces on my records. Originally I came from the poetry scene. But to be honest, I don’t specially like the label ‘spoken word.’ We all use spoken words. But I don’t just talk, I give my words a flow, a rhythm, a melody. They are put together with great care. In essence, it’s a different kind of song.” In recent years he has been touring primarily as the singer in Elliott Sharp’s blues guerilla group Terraplane, and its goal-oriented power no doubt left its traces on Healin‘ Howl as well.
Healin‘ Howl is a tasting menu for gourmets of a kind of urban blues whose honesty goes beyond coolness, and which can accept tradition as a perspective on the future.