For the first time ever I plunked down a large sum of money for a record. As a rule, I pay no more than $15, usually between $1 and $10. I'm what is known as a "bottom feeder" by the record store geniuses who sell vinyl LPs. What happened was I was walking down a hot August street thinking of other things when blammo, here's this record store. A RECORD STORE! A rare discovery in Manhattan, where rents have killed off most of them. So next thing I know I'm flipping through the stacks and listening to this clerk, a pink-Izod-wearing 50-something effete stereophile snob in Lenscrafters faux-architect glasses, groan to a customer about people who think they're getting a "bargain" off the Internet only to find the rare Blue Note album they ordered has a huge gash in it when it arrives. "Idiots!" he declared. "They get what they deserve! Yeah, I'm sure an album graded 'excellent' sounded super on a $99 record player in Texarkana."
OK, on-site perusing has its virtues, sure, but this is a guy who charges $65 for a Glenn Danzig album on vinyl. If I could sell my own collection for the prices he's charging I could retire right now. Thing is, so rare are these bonfires of 20th-century vanity in the digital age, these record stores, it takes very little time for you yourself to become warped into thinking this is a reasonable reality. The kids are really into vinyl nowadays, this guy argues to a customer, so the prices are going up, up, up, up, UP!
All of which is to say I bought Money Jungle, a 1962 United Artist import of Duke Ellington with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, for $60.
I don't know why. I was about to stick with a $10 copy of a lesser Jerry Butler album, but then I saw this sitting up there on the wall, beckoning. I'm sure Mr. Poncho bought this album 10 years ago for about $7, if that. And it's not like I wanted to impress the Pink Architect. I pretty much despised him from the minute I walked into the place. But I despised him for a very specific reason: out of a visceral fear that we shared some essential DNA. Or rather, a rare and alarming disease that leads to the belief that collecting vinyl LPs is a worthy way to pass the time -- a life's pursuit in which there are winners and losers, and not just a bunch of suckers all the way around.
A bright spot: the Ellington record is totally and utterly awesome! And Mr. Poncho says we might fund our kids' college degrees when the vinyl bubble comes and an early Bee Gees record is suddenly worth $50 (thanks for that, Mr. Poncho, but here's my projection for that scenario: the year 3033). In any case, the very least I can do is bring pleasure to my friends now. Herewith, the sound of three giants of jazz in a bare bones trio, egos a-blazing, bass, piano, drums, sparring, ribbing, jabbing, winking, rocking, tearing it up, then going placid and blue and profound, Mingus and Roach making room for master Ellington, Ellington trying to prove he's still got chops beyond the conductor's baton. Mingus levels entire modes of Western thought with his fiercely monosyllabic bass solos against Duke's basso-profundo left-hand jabs and Roach's shimmering minarets of cymbol-work. The name of the record feels right, too, timely, fatalistic and ultimately clear-eyed, an agreement on plight, a killer jam session the only route to existential detente. And maybe that's what I'm seeking from it: a vision of clarity and piercing recognition of what matters in the age of meltdown and reappraisal and thrift. Money is what ails us, but music is what matters, what cures, what calls. Right? I hope so. I just spent $60 for it. Anway, listen.
DOWNLOAD SIDE A
Le Fleurs Africaines (African Flower)
DOWNLOAD SIDE B
Recorded: New York City, Sept. 17, 1962