Dizzy Gillespie's Matrix (Castle Music) is a two-CD reissue that compiles three obscure Gillespie titles recorded for the Perception label in the early 1970s: an embarrassing The Real Thing, the hip Portrait of Jenny and a flawed but fascinating Giants.
The Real Thing is all fuzzy distorted guitar, chunka-chunka rhythms and soul, rock and funk cliches. There are a number of good players here, including James Moody, Eric Gale, Bernard "Pretty" Purdie and Mike Longo, but they seem buried in the contrived, period setting. Gillespie always sounds good, even when mired in the muck. He was clearly trying for a hit record here, but what are we to make of a trifle like "High on a Cloud," or the pseudo-rock number "Ding-a-Ling"? There's an unintentionally funny Gillespie vocal on "Closer" that ought to prompt some boomers to rummage through the attic to dig out their hippy love beads and stovepipe pants. It's an awful tune, but I found it oddly irresistible and hummed it much of the day after listening. Hip-hop beatologists might recognize the funky rhythm from "Matrix" since the Beatnuts sampled it for their tune "World Famous."
Portrait of Jenny is also a bit dated, but it holds up much better, perhaps because it's more groovy Latin jazz than fake rock. The band includes guitarist George Davis, bassist Andy Gonzales, congueros Jerry Gonzalez and Carlos Valdes and timbalist Nicky Marrero. Extended tunes like "Olinga" and "Timet" are trippy without the trappings of ersatz psychedelia. The bumpin' "Diddy Wa Diddy" is right in the pocket, and the opening of "Me 'n Them" churns with an alternating 6/8 and 4/4 that borrows from Mongo Santamaria's "Afro-Blue." If Dizzy was looking to cross over, this entire set might easily have made it in the haze (blue? purple?) of the Fillmore.
The second disc of this set consists of Giants, a live 1971 concert at the Overseas Press Club in New York City with Gillespie, cornetist Bobby Hackett, pianist Mary Lou Williams, bassist George Duvivier and drummer Grady Tate. The recording quality is only fair, but the performances are terrific and Gillespie is obviously inspired. Gillespie and Hackett affectionately spar with one another on "Autumn Leaves," and Williams plays the heck out of the beat-up piano on "Caravan." Hackett is all pretty tone and beautifully sculpted phrases on "Willow Weep for Me," and Gillespie doubles and triple times his solos on his own "Birk's Works." If you listen closely on "Jitterbug Waltz" you can hear Gillespie tell Hackett to start the phrases and he'll finish them. There's also a surprising "My Man," with a shuffle beat in which Dizzy quotes "_ Sole Mio" and then clears the decks with an astounding coda that makes everyone laugh and pack it in.