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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Four Classic Albums

2 CDs

Avid AMSC 968




1. Dizzy's Blues
2. School Days
3. Dizzy Speaks
4. Doodlin'
5. Manteca
6. I Remember Clifford
7. Cool Breeze
8. Sign Off
9. Roses of Picardy
10. Silhouette
11. Can You Recall?
12. O Solow
13. Cool Eyes
14. Confusion
15. Pile Driver
16. Hob Nail Special

1. Dizzy's Business
2. Jessica's Day
3. Tour de Force
4. I Can't Get Started
5. Doodlin'
6. Night in Tunisia
7. Stella by Starlight
8. The Champ
9. My Reverie
10. Dizzy's Blues
11. Emanon
12. Ool-Ya-Koo
13. Stay On It
14. Good Bait
15. One Bass Hit
16. Manteca

It is well known that big bands struggled for existence after the Second World War, as the financial constraints and logistical problems put pressure on anyone who wanted to keep a big band together. Yet Dizzy Gillespie managed to form a big band and keep it in one piece for periods in the late 1940s and again in the 1950s. As you would expect with the irrepressible Gillespie, the bands were energetic and good-humoured ensembles and they often played with huge power as well as the technical dexterity which characterised bebop.

In fact, on this double album of reissued LPs, mainly from the mid-fifties, the power can be overwhelming, with the band sounding like a heavy metal version of bebop. Dizzy's numerous trumpet solos can also be hard on the ears, as he often plays stratospherically high. Nevertheless, this ia an interesting set of reissues, despite Avid's irritating habit of making information about personnels, soloists and recording dates difficult to find because they have squeezed the (incomplete) facts into too small a space.

The first seven tracks come from Dizzy Gillespie at Newport, capturing the band performing to an enthusiastic crowd at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1957. The music is certainly spirited, driven along by the drums of Charlie Persip, who fills any gaps most expertly. Dizzy takes the lion's share of the solo space but he also allows room for solos from the likes of trombonist Al Grey, pianist Wynton Kelly and baritone saxist Pee Wee Moore. Gillespie gives Pee Wee a huge build-up before Doodlin' but Pee Wee only plays the first six notes of each chorus!

Benny Golson's arrangement of his own composition, I Remember Clifford, shows that the band can play with thoughtful grace rather than noisy excess. But the vaudeville aspect of the band is clear when the musicians chant in unison "I'll never go back to Georgia" at the start of Manteca, which is the high point of the band's extrovert tracks. Golson and Gillespie supply inventive solos and the band executes a fascinating upwards glissando - first on the saxes and then on the brass. The whole set has a happy atmosphere.

The remaining tracks on the first CD come from the 1954 album Dizzy Gillespie and Strings. The title of this LP was a misnomer, as Dizzy only plays with string accompaniment on half the eight tracks. These were arranged by Johnny Richards and include woodwinds, French horns and a jazz rhythm section, as well as nine stringed instruments. These tracks are not as successful as Charlie Parker's similar experiments with string backings, as Gillespie's high-pitched trumpet blends less comfortably with strings than Parker's alto-sax did.

The four other tracks were arranged by Buster Harding, who had worked for the Count Basie Orchestra, and it is noticeable that the arrangements use traditional voicings (e.g. smooth sax ensembles) alongside Dizzy's bebop.

The second CD in this compilation starts with ten tracks from Dizzy Gillespie: World Statesman, recalling the Gillespie Big Band's tour of the Middle East, sponsored by the State Department. Dizzy again takes many of the solo opportunities but we also hear from such musicians as Phil Woods, Melba Liston, Billy Mitchell and Joe Gordon. Doodlin' reappears, but in a less burlesque version than previously. The Champ includes a long, impressive drum solo from Charlie Persip.

The second CD ends with six tracks originally released on a ten-inch LP: Gene Norman Presents Dizzy Gillespie and his Orchestra, recorded at Pasadena in 1948. Dizzy's jokey side is displayed in his nonsensical vocal duet with Ernie Henry on Ool-Ya-Koo. But much of the LP was dominated by the forceful conga drums of Chano Pozo, who contributed to Gillespie's experiments in Afro-Cuban rhythms but who died shortly after this recording was made. The playing here is possibly even more intense than on the 1950s' recordings.

As ever, this Avid compilation provides good value, although the ear-piercing quality of some tunes made me remember why I prefer Dizzy Gillespie in the generally quieter ambience of a small group rather than a big band.

Tony Augarde

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