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Jazz - Released January 1, 1995 | Impulse!

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The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is one of the greatest achievements in orchestration by any composer in jazz history. Charles Mingus consciously designed the six-part ballet as his magnum opus, and -- implied in his famous inclusion of liner notes by his psychologist -- it's as much an examination of his own tortured psyche as it is a conceptual piece about love and struggle. It veers between so many emotions that it defies easy encapsulation; for that matter, it can be difficult just to assimilate in the first place. Yet the work soon reveals itself as a masterpiece of rich, multi-layered texture and swirling tonal colors, manipulated with a painter's attention to detail. There are a few stylistic reference points -- Ellington, the contemporary avant-garde, several flamenco guitar breaks -- but the totality is quite unlike what came before it. Mingus relies heavily on the timbral contrasts between expressively vocal-like muted brass, a rumbling mass of low voices (including tuba and baritone sax), and achingly lyrical upper woodwinds, highlighted by altoist Charlie Mariano. Within that framework, Mingus plays shifting rhythms, moaning dissonances, and multiple lines off one another in the most complex, interlaced fashion he'd ever attempted. Mingus was sometimes pigeonholed as a firebrand, but the personal exorcism of Black Saint deserves the reputation -- one needn't be able to follow the story line to hear the suffering, mourning, frustration, and caged fury pouring out of the music. The 11-piece group rehearsed the original score during a Village Vanguard engagement, where Mingus allowed the players to mold the music further; in the studio, however, his exacting perfectionism made The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady the first jazz album to rely on overdubbing technology. The result is one of the high-water marks for avant-garde jazz in the '60s and arguably Mingus' most brilliant moment. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1963 | Impulse!

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Jazz - Released May 22, 2009 | Columbia - Legacy

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Jazz - Released December 30, 1988 | ENJA RECORDS Matthias Winckelmann

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
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Bebop - Released September 14, 1959 | Columbia - Legacy

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Charles Mingus' debut for Columbia, Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist's talents and probably the best reference point for beginners. While there's also a strong case for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady as his best work overall, it lacks Ah Um's immediate accessibility and brilliantly sculpted individual tunes. Mingus' compositions and arrangements were always extremely focused, assimilating individual spontaneity into a firm consistency of mood, and that approach reaches an ultra-tight zenith on Mingus Ah Um. The band includes longtime Mingus stalwarts already well versed in his music, like saxophonists John Handy, Shafi Hadi, and Booker Ervin; trombonists Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis; pianist Horace Parlan; and drummer Dannie Richmond. Their razor-sharp performances tie together what may well be Mingus' greatest, most emotionally varied set of compositions. At least three became instant classics, starting with the irrepressible spiritual exuberance of signature tune "Better Get It in Your Soul," taken in a hard-charging 6/8 and punctuated by joyous gospel shouts. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" is a slow, graceful elegy for Lester Young, who died not long before the sessions. The sharply contrasting "Fables of Faubus" is a savage mockery of segregationist Arkansas governor Orval Faubus, portrayed musically as a bumbling vaudeville clown (the scathing lyrics, censored by skittish executives, can be heard on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus). The underrated "Boogie Stop Shuffle" is bursting with aggressive swing, and elsewhere there are tributes to Mingus' most revered influences: "Open Letter to Duke" is inspired by Duke Ellington and "Jelly Roll" is an idiosyncratic yet affectionate nod to jazz's first great composer, Jelly Roll Morton. It simply isn't possible to single out one Mingus album as definitive, but Mingus Ah Um comes the closest. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Jazz - Released March 1, 1960 | Rhino Atlantic

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Pop - Released October 18, 1999 | Columbia

Charles Mingus' debut for Columbia, Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist's talents and probably the best reference point for beginners. While there's also a strong case for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady as his best work overall, it lacks Ah Um's immediate accessibility and brilliantly sculpted individual tunes. Mingus' compositions and arrangements were always extremely focused, assimilating individual spontaneity into a firm consistency of mood, and that approach reaches an ultra-tight zenith on Mingus Ah Um. The band includes longtime Mingus stalwarts already well versed in his music, like saxophonists John Handy, Shafi Hadi, and Booker Ervin; trombonists Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis; pianist Horace Parlan; and drummer Dannie Richmond. Their razor-sharp performances tie together what may well be Mingus' greatest, most emotionally varied set of compositions. At least three became instant classics, starting with the irrepressible spiritual exuberance of signature tune "Better Get It in Your Soul," taken in a hard-charging 6/8 and punctuated by joyous gospel shouts. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" is a slow, graceful elegy for Lester Young, who died not long before the sessions. The sharply contrasting "Fables of Faubus" is a savage mockery of segregationist Arkansas governor Orval Faubus, portrayed musically as a bumbling vaudeville clown (the scathing lyrics, censored by skittish executives, can be heard on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus). The underrated "Boogie Stop Shuffle" is bursting with aggressive swing, and elsewhere there are tributes to Mingus' most revered influences: "Open Letter to Duke" is inspired by Duke Ellington and "Jelly Roll" is an idiosyncratic yet affectionate nod to jazz's first great composer, Jelly Roll Morton. It simply isn't possible to single out one Mingus album as definitive, but Mingus Ah Um comes the closest. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Jazz - Released March 15, 2005 | Rhino Atlantic

Pithecanthropus Erectus was Charles Mingus' breakthrough as a leader, the album where he established himself as a composer of boundless imagination and a fresh new voice that, despite his ambitiously modern concepts, was firmly grounded in jazz tradition. Mingus truly discovered himself after mastering the vocabularies of bop and swing, and with Pithecanthropus Erectus he began seeking new ways to increase the evocative power of the art form and challenge his musicians (who here include altoist Jackie McLean and pianist Mal Waldron) to work outside of convention. The title cut is one of his greatest masterpieces: a four-movement tone poem depicting man's evolution from pride and accomplishment to hubris and slavery and finally to ultimate destruction. The piece is held together by a haunting, repeated theme and broken up by frenetic, sound-effect-filled interludes that grow darker as man's spirit sinks lower. It can be a little hard to follow the story line, but the whole thing seethes with a brooding intensity that comes from the soloist's extraordinary focus on the mood, rather than simply flashing their chops. Mingus' playful side surfaces on "A Foggy Day (In San Francisco)," which crams numerous sound effects (all from actual instruments) into a highly visual portrait, complete with honking cars, ringing trolleys, sirens, police whistles, change clinking on the sidewalk, and more. This was the first album where Mingus tailored his arrangements to the personalities of his musicians, teaching the pieces by ear instead of writing everything out. Perhaps that's why Pithecanthropus Erectus resembles paintings in sound -- full of sumptuous tone colors learned through Duke Ellington, but also rich in sonic details that only could have come from an adventurous modernist. And Mingus plays with the sort of raw passion that comes with the first flush of mastery. Still one of his greatest. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1963 | Verve Reissues

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Bebop - Released May 18, 2007 | RCA - Legacy

Inspired by a trip to Tijuana, Tijuana Moods was recorded in 1957 but was sat on by RCA until its release in 1962. Bassist/composer Charles Mingus at the time said that this was his greatest recording, and it certainly ranks near the top. The original version, which was usually edited together from a few different takes, consisted of just five performances. It has often been said that Mingus forced and pressured his sidemen to play above their potential, and that is certainly true of this project. Altoist Shafi Hadi (who doubles on tenor) is in blazing form on "Ysabel's Table Dance," while trumpeter Clarence Shaw (who was praised by Mingus for his short lyrical solo on "Flamingo") sounds quite haunting on "Los Mariachis." Trombonist Jimmy Knepper and drummer Dannie Richmond made other great recordings, but they are in particularly superior form throughout this session, as is the obscure pianist Bill Triglia. Completing the band is Ysabel Morel on vocals and Frankie Dunlop on castanets. While "Dizzy's Moods" is based on "Woody'N You," and "Flamingo" is given a fresh treatment, the other three songs are quite original, with "Tijuana Gift Shop" having a catchy, dissonant riff that sticks in one's mind. The passionate playing, exciting ensembles, and high-quality compositions make this a real gem, and it represents one of Charles Mingus' finest hours. [In the '80s, Tijuana Moods doubled in size with the release of two versions of each of the songs, and beginning in the 2000s, some reissues appeared with 22 performances.] © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2006 | Universal Music Mexico

Charles Mingus recorded only three albums for the Impulse label, all in 1963. Two of those are bona fide classics: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, an album-length composition, and Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, a ferocious big-band set. The third, Mingus Plays Piano, is no less a revelatory work, but given that it is a solo recital of a man for whom the piano was a second instrument, he was less popular, though politely and even reverently in some circles, received at the time. This output has been compiled for the Mingus volume in the Impulse Story series of individual artist releases that accompany Ashley Kahn's book, The House That Trane Built: The Impulse Story, and the four-CD label history box set. of the same name from Universal. The music here, featuring such classics as "Theme for Lester Young (aka Goodbye Pork Pie Hat)," the beautiful solo piano read of "Body and Soul," the opening "Track A -- Solo Dancer" from Black Saint, and of course "Freedom," are unimpeachable. And while it's true that the individual records work better than this compilation, there can be no arguing this is a fantastic set to listen to on its own merit. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 14, 2004 | Rhino Atlantic

During 1960, bassist Charles Mingus led one of his finest bands, a pianoless quartet with Eric Dolphy (on alto, flute, and bass clarinet), trumpeter Ted Curson, and drummer Dannie Richmond. For this live concert, the band is augmented by the great tenor Booker Ervin for some stirring music. All of the music is memorable: "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting," "Prayer for Passive Resistance," "What Love," "Folk Forms No. 1," and "Better Get Hit in Yo' Soul." The immortal pianist Bud Powell sits in on a fine version of "I'll Remember April" and Dolphy and Ervin in particular generate a great deal of heat during some of their solos. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1995 | Impulse!

Having completed what he (and many critics) regarded as his masterwork in The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Charles Mingus' next sessions for Impulse found him looking back over a long and fruitful career. Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus is sort of a "greatest hits revisited" record, as the bassist revamps or tinkers with some of his best-known works. The titles are altered as well -- "II B.S." is basically "Haitian Fight Song" (this is the version used in the late-'90s car commercial); "Theme for Lester Young" is "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"; "Better Get Hit in Your Soul" adds a new ending, but just one letter to the title; "Hora Decubitus" is a growling overhaul of "E's Flat Ah's Flat Too"; and "I X Love" modifies "Nouroog," which was part of "Open Letter to Duke." There's also a cover of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo," leaving just one new composition, "Celia." Which naturally leads to the question: With the ostensible shortage of ideas, what exactly makes this a significant Mingus effort? The answer is that the 11-piece bands assembled here (slightly different for the two separate recording sessions) are among Mingus' finest, featuring some of the key personnel (Eric Dolphy, pianist Jaki Byard) that would make up the legendary quintet/sextet with which Mingus toured Europe in 1964. And they simply burn, blasting through versions that equal and often surpass the originals -- which is, of course, no small feat. This was Mingus' last major statement for quite some time, and aside from a solo piano album and a series of live recordings from the 1964 tour, also his last album until 1970. It closes out the most productive and significant chapter of his career, and one of the most fertile, inventive hot streaks of any composer in jazz history. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 28, 2014 | Bethlehem Records

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1998 | Rhino Atlantic

The Clown was Charles Mingus' second masterpiece in a row, upping the already intense emotional commitment of Pithecanthropus Erectus and burning with righteous anger and frustration. With Pithecanthropus, Mingus displayed a gift for airtight, focused arrangements that nonetheless allowed his players great freedom to add to the established mood of each piece. The Clown refines and heightens that gift; instead of just writing heads that provide launch points for solos, Mingus tries to evoke something specific with every piece, and even his most impressionistic forays have a strong storytelling quality. In fact, The Clown's title cut makes that explicit with a story verbally improvised by Jean Shepherd (yes, the same Jean Shepherd responsible for A Christmas Story) from a predetermined narrative. There are obvious jazz parallels in the clown's descent into bitterness with every unresponsive, mean-spirited audience, but the track is even more interesting for the free improvisations led by trombonist Jimmy Knepper, as the group responds to Shepherd's story and paints an aural backdrop. It's evidence that Mingus' compositional palette was growing more determinedly modern, much like his increasing use of dissonance, sudden tempo changes, and multiple sections. The Clown introduced two of Mingus' finest compositions in the driving, determined "Haitian Fight Song" and the '40s-flavored "Reincarnation of a Lovebird," a peaceful but melancholy tribute to Charlie Parker; Mingus would return to both throughout his career. And, more than just composing and arranging, Mingus also begins to take more of the spotlight as a soloist; in particular, his unaccompanied sections on "Haitian Fight Song" make it one of his fieriest moments ever. Mingus may have matched the urgency of The Clown on later albums, but he never quite exceeded it. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2007 | Blue Note Records

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In 2005, Blue Note raised the eyebrows (and expectations) of the jazz world by issuing the previously unreleased Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane Carnegie Hall concert from November of 1957 that literally replaces the few other recordings of the group both sonically and musically. In 2007, courtesy of Charles Mingus' widow Sue, with the help of Michael Cuscuna and Blue Note, gives us another heretofore unknown bit of jazz history with the Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy's Cornell University Concert from March 18, 1964. The reason this gig is significant is because apparently, not only didn't anybody know it was recorded, according to Gary Giddins, who wrote the (typically) excellent liners here, no one but the people who put on the show and the students who attended even knew it had taken place! The other reason for its historic importance is that it took place 17 days before the famed Town Hall concert and predated other European shows by the band by at least a month. This is significant because trumpeter Johnny Coles took ill shortly after, and Dolphy passed away a few months later. Until now, the Town Hall gig was the standard for this band, but it is safe to say with this current revelation that it will be replaced in the annals of the canon. This band -- Mingus, Dolphy, Coles, Jaki Byard, Dannie Richmond, and Clifford Jordan -- played perhaps definitive renditions of some Mingus tunes worked out previously at the Five Spot where he assembled the group, and were presumed to have first been performed, and recorded, at Town Hall. Much of the material was also performed on the European tour that followed and climaxed with an appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival. These two discs contain a number of debuts and some absolutely startling solos beginning with Byard's solo set opener "ATFW You," which is four-and-a-half minutes of genius and jazz history. Mingus' solos with skeletal Byard backing on "Sophisticated Lady" for another few minutes before the band takes off in earnest with a raucous yet amazingly playful half-hour version of "Fables of Faubus," that dazzles, to say the least, in large part because of the utterly inspired bass playing by the bandleader, and the embedded quotes from corny American folk songs to popular tunes to Chopin. Another debut here is the sextet version of Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train," which Mingus had only recorded before with a big band. The differences, as one can imagine, are striking, particularly in Jordan's solo. The introduction of "Meditations" on the second disc of this set is simply shattering. Over half-an-hour in length, it offers once more the genius in Byard's playing and underscores Richmond as far more than a rhythmnatist, and Coles as a soloist who could hang with anybody. Of particular note is the interplay between Jordan and Dolphy's bass clarinet: the tune once more embodies the best of Mingus' thought and inspiration as it takes solid note of the lineage of the music and extends it into the future. "So Long Eric" also appears here, since at the time of this recording, he was leaving the band, and this piece was a thanks for his contribution to Mingus' music and not the elegy it has been consistently thought of (Giddins points this out). Another welcome surprise here is the sextet performing a six-minute rendition of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" (St. Patrick's Day was the day before), kicked off by a jaunty, swinging intro by Byard and Mingus. As the melody becomes pronounced the horns all kick in in unison, and Coles takes a wonderful solo, swinging hard and lyrical with wonderful counterpoint by Mingus and timely fills and comping by Byard, as a jazz version of a reel played by Dolphy on clarinet can be heard in the background. The final surprise is the only known recording of Mingus playing Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," with killer duo played between Dolphy on flute and Byard. Throughout, Mingus' bass urges them on, digging deep into the groove of the tune, and the dialogue between Mingus and Richmond is nearly telepathic. Despite all of these debuts, there is another very profound reason that this recording is so utterly special, which Giddins reveals near the beginning of his liner notes. There is a kind of exuberance and joy on this set that offers another side of the mercurial and stormy bandleader. Seldom has he sounded so at ease and relaxed as he does here. The confidence in the ensemble is complete, and he feels no need to push but only to encourage and tale delight in the proceedings. This short-lived group proves, as evidenced here, that they were a magical unit that may not have been around as long as Miles Davis' second quintet, or John Coltrane's quartet, but as under-celebrated as its various musicians were -- Coles, Richmond, and especially Byard -- the band itself was as innovative and creative even in the brevity of its existence. This double-disc is every bit as important as the Monk-Coltrane disc, and sounds very fine for a tape that has been sitting in a closet for over 40 years: it truly needs to be heard to even be believed, let alone convinced. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1998 | Rhino Atlantic

After several sessions with Columbia and Candid, Charles Mingus briefly returned to Atlantic and cut the freewheeling Oh Yeah, which has to rank as the wildest of all his classic albums. Mingus plays no bass whatsoever, hiring Doug Watkins to fill in while he accompanies the group on piano and contributes bluesy vocals to several tracks (while shouting encouragement on nearly all of them). Mingus had always had a bizarre sense of humor, as expressed in some of his song titles and arranging devices, but Oh Yeah often gets downright warped. That's partly because Mingus is freed up to vocalize more often, but it's also due to the presence of mad genius Roland Kirk. His chemistry with Mingus is fantastically explosive, which makes sense -- both were encyclopedias of jazz tradition, but given over to oddball modernist experimentation. It's a shame Kirk only spent three months with the band, because his solo interpretations are such symbiotic reflections of Mingus' intent as a composer. Look no further than "Hog Callin' Blues," a stomping "Haitian Fight Song" descendant where Kirk honks and roars the blues like a man possessed. Mingus' vocal selections radiate the same dementia, whether it's the stream-of-consciousness blues couplets on "Devil Woman," the dark-humored modern-day spiritual "Oh Lord Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me," or the dadaist stride piano bounce of "Eat That Chicken," a nod to Fats Waller's comic novelties. Elsewhere, "Passions of a Man" sounds almost like musique concrète, while "Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am" nicks some Monk angularity and "Ecclusiastics" adds some testifying shouts and a chorale-like theme to Mingus' gospel-jazz hybrid. Oh Yeah is probably the most offbeat Mingus album ever, and that's what makes it so vital. [Some reissues add three bonus tracks from the session, first released on Tonight at Noon.] © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Bebop - Released February 1, 1972 | Legacy - Columbia

On this LP issued by Columbia, Mingus thanked producer Teo Macero for "his untiring efforts in producing the best album I have ever made." From his deathbed in Mexico in 1979 he sent a message to Sy Johnson (who was responsible for many of the arrangements on the album), saying that Let My Children Hear Music was the record he liked most from his career. Although Mingus' small-group recordings are the ones most often cited as his premier works, this album does, in fact, rank at the top of his oeuvre and compares favorably with the finest large-ensemble jazz recordings by anyone, including Ellington. The pieces had been brewing over the years, one from as far back as 1939, and had been given more or less threadbare performances on occasion, but this was his first chance to record them with a sizable, well-rehearsed orchestra. Still, there were difficulties, both in the recording and afterward. The exact personnel is sketchy, largely due to contractual issues, several arrangers were imported to paste things together, making the true authorship of some passages questionable, and Macero (as he did with various Miles Davis projects) edited freely and sometimes noticeably. The listener will happily put aside all quibbles, however, when the music is heard. From the opening, irresistible swing of "The Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jiveass Slippers" to the swirling depths of "The I of Hurricane Sue," these songs are some of the most glorious, imaginative, and full of life ever recorded. Each piece has its own strengths, but special mention should be made of two. "Adagio Ma Non Troppo" is based entirely on a piano improvisation played by Mingus in 1964 and issued on Mingus Plays Piano. Its logical structure, playful nature, and crystalline moments of beauty would be astounding in a polished composition; the fact that it was originally improvised is almost unbelievable. "Hobo Ho," a holy roller powerhouse featuring the impassioned tenor of James Moody, reaches an incredible fever pitch, the backing horns volleying riff after riff at the soloists, the entire composition teetering right on the edge of total chaos. Let My Children Hear Music is a towering achievement and a must for any serious jazz fan. © Brian Olewnick /TiVo
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Jazz - Released March 15, 2005 | Rhino Atlantic

On this Atlantic LP, Charles Mingus introduced his new group which at the time included trumpeter Ronald Hampton, tenor-saxophonist George Adams, pianist Don Pullen and his longtime drummer Dannie Richmond. Together this excellent quintet performed seven recent compositions including one ("Moves") that features the vocals of Honey Gordon and Doug Hammond. Only three of the pieces are by Mingus but all of the music is greatly influenced by his searching and unpredictable style. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released March 15, 2005 | Rhino Atlantic

In spite of the electric guitars, which don't really fit that well, the title track is one of the more successful Charles Mingus efforts at extended composition. The list of section titles for the work is a valuable document in itself; it includes the "Super Bebop Blues (Check Bird Out)" with George Coleman and the dudes who are advancing group improvisation, while USA press ignores them. And still does. Not his best work, but not without merit. © Stuart Kremsky /TiVo