A few years preceding John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie's death in 1993 through the present have seen the release of several tribute discs to the creator of Modern Jazz. The majority of these recordings have been basically live jam sessions with some moments of interesting music, but for the most part they are a self-indulgent bore. It was with no small amount of fear form my entertainment dollar that I picked up The Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars: Dizzy's 80th Birthday Party
. I purchased it because it had a seven minute plus performance of one of my favorite Gillespie compositions, "Birk's Works." I saw the independent label and decided to take a chance.
It turns out that this is a very fun disc. The first thing that struck me about it, was the crisp sonic and superb engineering. Quite a sharp bit of recording. Not only are the sonics sharp, the performance and execution are also impressive. Jon Faddis, more than Arturo Sandoval, is the appropriate trumpet player for this recording. His playing is crisp, well defined, and stratospheric, just like his mentor's.
The disc is heavy on the Latin influenced compositions, weighing in with "Fiesta Mojo," "Poor Joe," "Manteca," and "Con Alma." These are all immediately accessible and satisfying. But there is also a huge dose of bebop with "Salt Peanuts," "Birk's Works," "A Night in Tunisia," "Dizzy Atmosphere" and "BeBop".
These songs all provide superb vehicles for superb soloists. Faddis is outstanding on any song that endures his spitfire trumpet. Antonio Hart shows off his chops on a draftsman exact arrangement of "A Night in Tunisia," a slow burning "Con Alma" and a archetypically bebop "Dizzy Atmosphere." Andres Boiarsky is especially fine on the too-funky-to-survive "Manteca." The rhythm section is very good, in spite of my dislike for the electric bass in an acoustic setting. However, an acoustic bass could not have carried the burning "Manteca" as John Lee's electric did. Cyrus Chestnut was uniformly good throughout the recording. All percussion was precise and workmanlike.
This is a very enjoyable recording. I would recommend it to any new jazz fan who otherwise might be scared away by the poor sonics of historic recordings. This is the type of recording that can set the hook of jazz in any receptive listener and make them want to explore the roots of this most essential of American art forms.