Track of the Week: Ysabel’s Table Dance by Charlie Mingus

Mingus, without a doubt, is my favorite bebop/post-bop musician. His music often has a brooding sound but this week’s pick of Ysabel’s Table Dance from Tijuana Moods is a departure from what I’d consider typical Mingus. I didn’t find this album until I had Mingus Big Band play at Yoshi’s in SF about two years ago.  It’s one of his lesser known recordings.

The story goes that Mingus was inspired by a trip to Tijuana after a break up. The cover reads on the 1962 release reads “The album Charlie Mingus feels is his best work, in which he and his men re-create an exciting stay in Mexico’s wild and controversial border town.” The album as a whole probably comes in behind Mingus Mingus Mingus for me, but outside the tapestry of Ysabel’s Table Dance is a great bebop album.

It opens with high tempo castanets, then adds a layer of Mingus’ bass, then drum sticks, then a layer of vocals and piano, at which point the sound scape is set for the song.  The track clocks in at 10+ minutes and it’s not until the 4 minute mark that you remember that this is not an action song written for some Brad Pitt movie but rather a bebop track from ’62. The whole thing, through and through is manic. Saxes show up, tear through a few bars of chaos then are fought back with a trumpet as the cadence gets faster and slower and at some point you’re just lost to what you’re hearing. It’s not until the last minute or so that you see how it all comes together, and then the moment you’ve understood the song ends. It’s a fantastic track, and one of my all time favorite Mingus recordings.

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