The posthumous album is nothing new to jazzindeed, half of Coltrane's colossal discography was released after his deathbut this album is, to my recollection, the first to be recorded from beyond the grave. It features eight new tracks, all ostensibly written by Dizzy Gillespie and, in a weirdly metaphysical sense, performed by him too, using previously unknown New York-based trumpeter Harvey Limburger as a medium. The unique choice of preposition in the album title makes clear the difficulty of presenting this project.
"I was in my room taking a break from practicing. I started fooling around with my Ouija board and the letters began to form strange words," writes Limburger in the liner notes. "'T-H-I-S-I-S-D-I-Z... U-P-L-A-Y-4-M-E,' the implement spelled out. It was like an urgent text message from the Other Side." On previous occasions, says Limburger, the spirit had introduced himself as John, or J.B., and he hadn't paid much attention, choosing instead to ask repeatedly whether or not ghosts had a word for nudity.
Diz's instructions were simple and clear: rally an accommodating quartet, plug in the four-track, and set the new music to tape. Trumpet in hand, Limburger began channeling the otherworldly vibes and recording during nightly sessions, always beginning at midnight and ending at first light. "Diz wasisa perfectionist," he writes. "He wouldn't settle for anything less, even if it meant a hundred takes. Of course, I really didn't feel anything at the time, but afterwards I was always exhausted."
Good Spirits sees Gillespie returning to the bop style he helped pioneer. The opener and title track establishes the brisk, jaunty pace for the rest of the album. "The Quick and the Quicker" is a blazing fast, quadruple time slalom, zig-zagging bebop at its finest. "Grave Matter" puts a bop spin on the southern-fried groove of Mingus' "Better Get Hit in Your Soul." "Harping for a Horn" deceptively intros with the soft, angelic chords of a ballad and then suddenly bursts into a hellish free-for-all with all three sidemen doing their best to follow the bandleader.
At times Diz can even be playfully self-referential. "Gabriel's Groove" toys with the theme of "Manteca," and "Long-Distance Call" resurrects the head of "A Night in Tunisia" as a jumping-off point for his solo. On this record Gillespie is supported by the moderately capable George Wantanabe on bass, the slightly less capable Fred Blanski on piano, and the even less capable Howie Limburger, Harvey's brother, on drums. One wishes that all the performers were as inspired as the leader. Then again, finding musicians receptive to this venture might have been a difficult task given the nature of the recording.
So should we credit Limburger with such a first-rate performance or, strange though it might seem, Diz himself? Once again, perhaps it's best to refer to the liner notes. "This is not my record," Limburger writes in closing. "This is Dizzy all the way. This is his playing you're hearing, this is his album. I was only privileged enough to be chosen as the vessel." This has not, however, prevented a protracted legal battle between Limburger and the Gillespie estate over the rights to the album and profits.
Good news for lawyersbut also good news for jazz fans. The success of the album means that there may be future releases along these same unconventional lines. According to Limburger, Diz and his musical soulmate Charlie Parker are looking for suitable hosts for a planned collaborative project.