Recorded in 1957, Tijuana Moods was initially released five years later in 1962. It was written during a very blue period in Mingus’ life. He was separated from his wife Celia, so he made his first trip to Tijuana, Baja California with Dannie Richmond in hopes of forgetting her. It didn’t work, but ever the artist Mingus “decided to benefit musically” by recreating his border town experiences.
“Dizzy Moods” was influenced by Gillespie’s “Woody ‘n’ You,” sketched out on the drive down. The horns have a full, warm sound, a perfect match for heading southbound on the freeway during the late afternoon as the sun begins its descent into the Pacific. The windows are down, and the summer air feels good on your skin.
Walking the streets of Tijuana, the castanets and female vocals call out. Enter a dimly lit club, cervezas y tequila are brought to the table, and witness “Ysabel’s Table Dance.” Mingus explains, “spots in the music played by the piano represent the scantily clad woman spinning from table to table.” The Latin influences disappear about four minutes in. The jazz swings behind Shafi Hadi’s sax. These are sounds of home, the big city. Mingus still remembers what he wants to forget. The sax somberly solos and the bass returns the Latin rhythms underneath, before the number swings again. Ysabel returns to the forefront, dancing up a storm. Mingus’ thoughts continue drifting back and forth, home and here.
While the music is very good and enjoyable, I don’t get what Mingus was going for in “Tijuana Gift Shop.” I have been in them, but don’t hear the connection. It’s a brief visit before we are back on the streets and encountering “Los Mariachis,” street musicians who entertain the tourists. They play different music for different people, hoping to pick the correct song that will maximize their tips. For Mingus, it keeps coming back to the blues this evening. He can be occasionally heard shouting about his woman in the background.
Anderson & Grouya’s “Flamingo” returns Mingus to the city. The striking of the triangle announces a new day dawning, but are you ready to face it. A battle takes place: the grogginess combined from drinking to repair a heart and a night’s slumber against the slow-brightening sky alongside the city’s hustle and bustle. The song’s end reveals the winner.
Recorded during these sessions is the bonus track “A Colloquial Dream (Scenes In The City),” previously issued on the 2001 version of this album. Lonnie Elder recites this wild, Beat poem put to jazz music about a love for jazz music. Even though times get rough with the landlady looking for the rent and everything being hock, the love of jazz keeps the narrator going. Bird, Miles, and Monk make it into the dream. The song doesn’t fit the album’s Tijuana mood, but it’s a cool piece nonetheless.
In the liner notes, Mingus wrote, “Tijuana Moods is the best record I ever made,” and “I believe this record includes performances by some of the greatest musicians I have ever worked with.” Far be it from me to argue with the man. It’s a great album no matter what your mood.