As much a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie's pioneering bebop band in the forties as it is a testament to the trumpet master's ability to synthesize Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and Caribbean music into the jazz idiom, Live At The Royal Festival Hall is a real renaissance effort. Originally released in 1989 on the Enja label, this live set captures Diz and an all-star lineup bringing down the house with one startling arrangement after another. No one track from the opener "Tin Tin Deo" to the obligatory "Night In Tunisia" is given a standard treatment. Dizzy incorporates many exciting passages into each song and utilizes the full talents of his "united nations" orchestra, a big band which features the crème de la crème of Latin jazz, many of whom played with Diz in the past. Just a few of the big names include Arturo Sandoval, Danielo Perez, James Moody, Paquito D'Rivera, Steve Turre, Slide Hampton and Giovanni Hidalgo in the late Chano Pozo's role on congas.
Although Diz was 72 at the time, he blows his trumpet with great passion and invention. His closing choruses on "A Night In Tunisia" are to be savored, as is his playing on "Tanga" and "And Then She Stopped." But while Diz is in fine form, he wisely leaves the fiery playing to his protégé Arturo Sandoval, whose speed and power on trumpet and fluegelhorn are nothing short of breathtaking. The electrifying interplay between trumpet master and disciple on "And Then She Stopped" should be heard by anyone with a love for the instrument.
There are many other highlights throughout the set as well. "Tanga" offers a thrilling saxophone showdown between Mario Rivera, Moody and D'Rivera, topped off with some spicy scatting by guest vocalist Flora Purim. Steve Turre conjures up exotic sounds from the shells on a virtuoso performance of his own "Dizzy Shells." And Dizzy's "Kush" is a powerful exercise in rhythmic tension and release propelled by outstanding solos from Moody on sax and flute.
A long (but not overlong) version of "Night In Tunisia" closes out the set with Dizzy leading the orchestra through diverse changes in rhythm, wonderful solo spotlights and maybe a little too much playfulness. But like every song on Live At The Royal Festival Hall, it's a showstopper that's intention is to wow the audience. And in that respect, it succeeds triumphantly.
Truth is, once you get over the fact that Live At The Royal Festival Hall is a pretty transparent effort to cash in on the Gillespie catalog, it offers some of the most exciting and accessible Latin bebop that you're likely to hear. And that makes it one of the most enjoyable reissues of 2001. Long live Diz.
Track Listing: Tin Tin Deo/Seresta-Carmen/And Then She Stopped/Tanga/Kush/Dizzy Shells/A Night In Tunisia
Personnel: Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet; Paquito D'Rivera, alto sax/clarinet; Slide Hampton, trombone; James Moody, alto & tenor sax/flute; Airto Moreira, percussion, Flora Purim, vocals; Arturo Sandoval, trumpet/piccolo trumpet/fluegelhorn; Ignacio Berroa, drums; Ed Cherry, guitar; Giovanni Hidalgo, congas/percussion; John Lee, bass; Danilo Perez, piano; Mario Rivera, tenor & soprano sax; Claudio Roditi, trumpet; Steve Turre, shells.