Perhaps nothing signifies the age of jazz after the decline of the big bands like the small combo—a quartet, a quintet fronted by a great saxophonist or trumpeter on a cramped stage in a smoke-filled club—tearing up the joint with their creativity in the moment. You didn’t have to be in Manhattan to hear great music. You could walk into a place like Pittsburgh’s legendary Crawford Grill on almost any night and be sure to hear something special.
So when tapes of a trumpet grandmaster like Dizzy Gillespie playing live at Ronnie Scott’s in London in August of 1973 are rediscovered in the club basement, tapes filled with enough previously unreleased music to fill four CDs, it is nothing short of a major event. Dizzy Gillespie’s Live at Ronnie Scott’s Volumes 1-4 make for the kind of treasure that will warm both the heart and, more importantly, the ears of happy jazz fans all over the planet.
One note, while three of the album covers (including Volume 1) indicate that these are “never before heard/ unreleased performances,” Amazon is offering a 2010 recording of Volume 1.
Gillespie was coming off 30 days of one-night touring for a two-week gig with his quintet at Scott’s and he was at the top of his game. The crowds loved him and, artist that he is, he was well aware of how to work them. Listen to his charged rant on music and slavery that serves as an introduction to “The Truth” on Volume 1.
Nonetheless it is really all about the music. And working with Al Gafa on guitar, Mike Longo on piano, Earl May on bass, and Mickey Roker on drums, Gillespie put out some fine music. Volume 1 contains five tracks, opening with the Longo composition “Sunshine” and concluding with an extended version of Gillespie’s “Timet,” which had been previously recorded for his 1970 album, Portrait of Jenny. “Timet” features some dynamic Roker drumming. Longo’s “The Truth” is an exciting excursion into the blues. Gillespie’s muted trumpet casts a spell on his treatment of the theme from Black Orpheus, and they follow with his own “Con Alma.”
Volume 2 opens with the classic “A Night in Tunisia” and includes Gillespie’s bebop tour de force, “Groovin’ High.” The funky “Matrix” is a 10-minute blast, while “Beyond a Moonbeam” adds a Brazilian touch. There’s an improvised Gillespie vocal on “The Blues.” “Brother K” and “Manteca” close the album.
After opening Volume 3 with “The Crossing,” Gillespie introduces “Ole’ for the Gypsies” with a story about being kidnapped by a band of French Gypsies. Gafa adds some compelling guitar work, and Gillespie maintains the Gypsy vibe with a muted solo. He sings on “Something in Your Smile” and does some scatting on “Oop-Pop-A-Da.” The bossa nova “No More Blues,” “Olinga,” and “Birks Works” complete the disc.
A swiftly-paced “I Told You So” opens Volume 4, leading to a 19-minute “Kush” highlighting the work of bassist Earl May. There is a solo trumpet opening, some Swahili chanting, and a bit of call and response before May gets the ball at about the 15-minute mark. Gillespie sings a somewhat irreverent version of Gershwin’s “Summertime” to begin the song, adding an aside or two, but when he picks up the horn, he’s all business, giving nods in his solo to “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “Tenderly.” “Alligator” gets another of those playful Gillespie intros, and “Mike’s Samba” leads to a short, blasting “Bye” and an introduction of the band members.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00QP9L3A6,B00QP9F7VW,B00PSQ73VA,B00QP9Q5ZO]