Friday, May 11, 2007

Charles Mingus - "Better Git Hit In Your Soul"

If you've got a Charles Mingus album or two, chances are you've got a version of "Better Git Hit In Your Soul" (or some variation on that spelling; there are several). As far as I can find, the song first appeared on Mingus Ah Um, although most of the themes had been previously explored under the title "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting". Mingus added the signature horn riff at the opening (following the introductory bass solo), changed the title, and "Better Git" became one of his best known and oft-revisited numbers. I think I have it on about a half-dozen records, and my Mingus collection is comparatively modest.

I've never been much of a serious jazz connoiseur, but Mingus is one of the few artists in the field I've really explored, and this song might be the sole reason. It's such an unbelieveably catchy hook, you don't need even the most rudimentary understanding of jazz for it to grab you.

The version here is from 1977's Three or Four Shades of Blues, a later album (Mingus succumbed to Lou Gehrig's disease in early 1979) dominated by the guitar work of Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine. In this version, the familiar riff is played on an electric guitar. The arrangement is brief and relatively spare considering the usual boisterous nature of the tune, and Coryell's solo is clearly the centerpiece. The lyrics, absent from most recordings of "Better Git", are fairly straight-forward gospel exhortations, and the seemingly-unrehearsed group vocals booth obscure and empower the words with their ragtag delivery. Once more. For Charlie.

The price tag on this one says "Fr50", which, for those of you too young to remember the pre-Euro days, was about ten bucks. I picked this up along with several other Mingus records in a record store in Paris that was spilling over with jazz vinyl, all for about half what it would cost in New York. I didn't even know it was a guitar record, I was just grabbing whatever Mingus I saw, drunk on the embarrassment of riches. Truth be told, it's not a great album. But worth hearing once, I suppose. Particularly if you're a "Better Git" fanatic.
Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Charles Mingus - "Better Git Hit In Your Soul"

As I mentioned before, I probably have enough renditions of this one song to do a "Better Git Hit" week, but I'll make it a little broader and just do Mingus week starting Monday.

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