Those who know Lalo Shifrin only from film scores and studio work may be surprised to learn that he once played piano in Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet. In 1960, Gillespie introduced Schifrin’s “Gillespiana,” a five–movement sound–portrait of Dizzy’s life and music that was completed only a few days after Gillespie asked him, “When are you going to write something for us?” To say that Schifrin took the suggestion to heart would be an understatement. “Gillespiana” is a major work by any measure, and in this concert performance by Germany’s spit–polished WDR Big Band and guests — the first recording of the suite since its premiere in 1960 — it sounds as fresh and alive as if it had been written only yesterday. As noted, the work depicts various aspects of Gillespie’s persona, and who better to stand in for Diz than his one–time protégé and heir–apparent, the stratospheric Jon Faddis, whose lightning–like sorties reanimate Dizzy’s insuperable spirit better than anyone else on earth. Faddis, who is no less than spectacular throughout, is one of a number of soloists who lend weight to the proceedings including alto saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera (who now leads Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra), percussionists Alex Acuña and Marcio Doctor, and several members of the WDR Band — trumpeter Markus Stockhausen, saxophonist Heiner Wiberny, drummer John Riley and bassist John Goldsby. The movements are as follows: “Prelude,” which raises the curtain on Dizzy’s life; “Blues,” an homage to his hometown of Cheraw, South Carolina, where he first heard gospel, blues and other forms of music that he later absorbed into the Jazz idiom; “Panamerica,” which reflects Dizzy’s love of Latin American rhythms; “Africana,” which pays tribute to his ancestry; and “Tocata,” a synthesis of the four previous movements. Following the suite, whose playing time is more than 52 minutes, is Schifrin’s superb arrangement for big band of “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5” by Hector Villalobos. Also recorded in concert, it shares with “Gillespiana” a few minor flaws such as thrusting the soloists (especially Schifrin) too far forward in the mix and amplifying the sound of applause to the point of aggravation. These, however, are the lone drawbacks in an otherwise exemplary performance that is highly recommended.
Track listing: Gillespiana Suite (Prelude, Blues, Panamericana, Africana, Tocata); Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (62:04).