Legendary jazz bassist Charles Mingus nominated Joni Mitchell to complete the songs that he was working on before his death. Mitchell wrote lyrics and fleshed out Mingus’ arrangements, enlisting jazz musicians including Jaco Pastorius, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. With only six songs, padded out by snippets of dialogue from Charles Mingus, most of the songs are too drawn out and slow moving to be effective.
At six and a half minutes long, ‘The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey’ is one of the offenders, but it’s atmospheric and interesting with sudden acoustic guitar punctuation. ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’, a Mingus standard with lyrics from Mitchell, works fine, simply because it’s a good song. And this album’s one unqualified winner is the fast and funky ‘The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines’, which has more energy than the rest of the album put together and a great bass line from Pastorious; if there were more songs like this and less meanderings like ‘A Chair in the Sky’ and ‘Sweet Sucker Dance’, Mingus would be more entertaining.
I’m sure there are a significant number of Mitchell fans out there who really love this album, and if you’re of a jazz inclination by all means check it out. Mitchell’s decision to revert to straightforward pop with her next album, Wild Things Run Fast, could perhaps be interpreted as an acknowledgement that she went too far off the deep end with Mingus.