Consolidated Artists Productions CAP 1040
When Dizzy Gillespie appeared at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, in London, in August 1973, he hadn’t recorded for a few years, but was about to enter a period of regular studio work courtesy Norman Granz’s Pablo Records. As Doug Ramsey explains in his liner notes to Dizzy Gillespie’s Live at Ronnie Scott’s, Volume 1, the great trumpet player was coming off a month of one-nighters when he arrived at Scott’s for a two-week stand. This disc is one of four, separately available, documenting that extended stay.
On Volume 1, Dizzy’s quintet roars out of the gate with “Sunshine,” a tune by the group’s pianist, Mike Longo. The track comes very close to the kind of funk jazz that Lou Donaldson and Grant Green were doing at the time, a fact underlined by Mickey Roker’s backbeat-heavy drumming, which contains no small amount of Idris Muhammad. After Dizzy and the band state the theme, Longo gets a long solo on electric piano, then the leader steps back up for an exciting solo featuring long, fast runs with a strong blues undercurrent.
Gillespie’s Harmon mute gives a relaxed feel to Luiz Bonfá’s “Manhã de Carnaval,” in which the band shows an impressive ease and familiarity with bossa nova. Guitarist Al Gafa’s interaction with Longo gives Dizzy a solid harmonic backdrop to play against, and he responds with a beautifully thought-out solo. The band barely pauses for breath before jumping into “Con Alma,” Gillespie’s 1954 Latin-jazz composition. Gillespie is in particularly good form here, reeling off great ideas with fire and passion, and Gafa’s solo is quick and agile without sacrificing melody. Gafa is one of many players in jazz history who should be better known; maybe these discs will remedy that.
Dizzy’s long, humorous introduction to “The Truth” contains a serious message about African-American history and music, especially the blues. It blends blues and spirituals, and includes Gillespie’s best performance on Volume 1, with long-held notes bent to riveting emotional effect. Longo’s gospel chops are on full display in a long solo that’s well constructed and soulful, and Gafa’s fills put meat on the arrangement’s bones.
In “Timet,” Gillespie returns to Latin jazz and his Harmon mute, and a dynamic arrangement and first-class playing all around keep this 20-minute track from bogging down. Roker again demonstrates his ability to play in any context, but he’s outstanding throughout all four discs -- as is bassist Earl May, who’s so understated that it took me a few plays to realize how rock solid he is here.
Gillespie’s quintet is highly entertaining, very energetic, and plays well on all four CDs, highlights of which include “A Night in Tunisia” and “Manteca” (Volume 2), “No More Blues” (Volume 3), and “Summertime” (Volume 4). Throughout, these recordings have a lot of live atmosphere, and while they’re a little bright, they’re not distractingly so.
While Gillespie is in very good form here, fans will probably say he played better on other live recordings, including a 1961 performance released on vinyl two years ago by Jazzhaus Records. But 12 years later, at Ronnie Scott’s, he was still burning -- across these four discs, it’s clear he still had a lot of life and good ideas.
. . . Joseph Taylor