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Dizzy Gillespie Quintet: Legends Live

Dan McClenaghan By

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The Jazzhaus label has, on its hands, an archive of some 1600 audio and more than 350 video recordings taken from live radio and T.V. broadcasts in post-World War II Germany, featuring some of the most vital jazz artists of the time. These recordings are now being released. The first batch of the Legends Live series included sets by drummer Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. The second wave of releases is headlined by the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet.

Trumpeter Gillespie was one of the bona fide fathers of bebop, having laid down a series of classic quintet recordings with alto saxophonist Charlie Parker in the late 1940s. A pioneer in introducing the Afro-Cuban sound to American audiences with his big band outings, and he was also an artist who was interested in lifting jazz from the bar room to the concert hall with records like Gillespiana (Verve Records, 1961) and Perceptions (Verve Records, 1961). In the same year these two ambitious projects were released, Gillespie travelled with his quintet to the south of Germany, recording in Liederhalle Stuttgart and Kongresshalle Frankfurt to create the music found on his Legends Live offering.

While Gillespie may have regarded his orchestral work as his greatest offerings, the economics of traveling with and maintaining a big band was prohibitive; and 1961 found the trumpet legend on tour in Europe—where jazz, especially at the time, enjoyed a greater appreciation than it did in the States—with an outstanding quintet anchored by pianist Lalo Schifrin, the young Argentinean who had written the music of Gillespiana.

Gillespie, an artist who wanted his music to be taken seriously, was also a performer who didn't mind having a good time. The set laid down in these two concerts had a very engaging looseness, starting right off with composer/bandleader/pianist Duke Ellington's 1928 tune "The Mooche," done over sixteen-plus minutes with a freewheeling bebop swing, features Gillespie and saxophonist Leo Wright's relaxed-but- spirited blowing over bassist Bob Cunningham's unwavering walk and drummer Mel Louis' rock steady beat.

Gillespie's classic "Con Alma" shows up twice: once for each venue. As they did on "The Mooche," the players stretch out, with lots of solo room for trumpet, sax and piano. The standard "Willow Weep for Me" gives Wright a chance to show off his flute chops, and Gillespie's "Oop-Shoo-Be-Doo-Be" showcases the leader goofing on a scat groove.

The jewel of the collection is a fifteen-minute take on Gillespie's "Kush." With the leader muted, and saxophonist Wright burning, the band explores a North African atmosphere, a clamorous marketplace perhaps, with pianist Schifrin adding an exotic, vibraphone- like chiming to the sound, leading into the closer, the second (and more zesty) take on Gillespie's "Con Alma," closing out a superb live recording by the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet.

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