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Cumbia has something special. It is a genre that sticks, that resonates and one that has endured for hundreds of years and travelled all over the globe. It has mixed with African influences, with electronica, with Balkan, with rock and even with boundary pushing jazz.

In 1977 one of Jazz’s greatest composers Chalres Mingues released an album on Atlantic simply titled ‘Cumbia and Jazz Fusion’. The album had at its heart two tracks of over 20 minutes each exploring the line between Colombian Cumbia and Jazz. Mingus’ Jazz experimentations are fused with Cumbia rhythms, freestyling piano solos descend into 5 minute percussion extravaganzas, twisting the original rhythms to a whole new level before diving into calls of ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ and back out again – a constant crisscrossing between the two genres.

The album is unique. But how did a jazz great like Mingus end up playing Cumbia in the first place?

In the 70s Mingus visited Colombia and, like so many to this day, was captivated by Cumbia’s raw energy and its roots in the African diaspora. As Gene Santoro says:

‘Mingus loved the rhythms rippling from clave’s three against two insistence, bought a bunch of records and started sketching ideas based around the sound’

Mingus forced his band members to sit and listen to the records bought back from Colombia and he’d say: ‘Hear that sound there? That’s what I want.’

The album was recorded with a fifteen piece band, incorporating birdsong, percussion, horns, piano, contrabass all complementing Mingus’ trademark Double Bass playing. In another international twist to the tale, the album was originally intended to be released as the soundtrack to the Italian film Todo Modo.

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Mingus was originally penned the two compositions for Elio Petri‘s 1976 film, travelling to Rome and joining the director on the set. However, the whole project fell through after the director rejected Mingus’ compositions and ended up working with renowned composer Ennio Morricone (in case you were ever wondering how to connect Morricone to Cumbia…!)

What was left was ‘Cumbia and Jazz Fusion’ a rare album from the end of Mingus’ career showing once more the infectious power of Cumbia!

Track listing

  1. “Cumbia and Jazz Fusion” – 28:05
  2. “Music for “Todo Modo”” – 22:21
  3. “Wedding March/Slow Waltz” – 2:04 Bonus track on CD
  4. “Wedding March/Slow Waltz” [alternate take] – 2:21 Bonus track on CD

All compositions by Charles Mingus

Recorded on March 1 (tracks 3 & 4) and March 10, 1977 (track 1) in NYC and March 29, 30 and 31, 1976 (track 2) at Sound WorkShop and Dirmaphon Studio, Rome, Italy.

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