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Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy In South America, Vol. 1

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Recorded in July and August 1956 during the Gillespie big band’s State Department-sponsored tour of South America, the ten tracks heard here augur well for the remaining two, as yet unissued, volumes, all of which material consists of previously unreleased performances. The personnel of the band is almost identical to the one that recorded two LPs for Verve the previous May and, besides Dizzy, features solos by trombonist Frank Rebak, tenormen Billy Mitchell and Benny Golson (“A Night in Tunisia”), altoman Phil Woods (Quincy Jones’ “Jessica’s Day”), pianist Walter Davis, Jr., and bassist Nelson Boyd. Dizzy is in phenomenal shape throughout, but he excels even his own high standards on the way-up “Cool Breeze,” which also offers extended solos by Rebak and Mitchell, “I Can’t Get Started,” which, apart from the arrangement, differs markedly from his definitive 1945 version, “A Night in Tunisia,” and the closing “Manteca.” Other tracks include Ernie Wilkins’ “Groovin’ for Nat,” a medium swinger with Dizzy at his most lyrical, two numbers showcasing vocalist Austin Cromer, the medium-paced jump tune, “Seems Like You Just Don’t Care” and “Flamingo,” and Melba Liston’s chart on “Stella by Starlight,” which is Dizzy all the way.

Although recorded in mono at 7 i.p.s. with only a single mike for the soloists and a slightly taller, centrally placed band mike, which almost completely ignores the piano, the sound is surprisingly good. Most importantly, it captures Diz at his most creative and inspired. Mitchell is undeniably a hard swinger, but because of his occasional forays into gratuitous honking a la R&B, one wishes that more space would have been given to Golson, who at this time played with a warm, breathy tone a la Lucky Thompson and logically developed ideas. Rehak and Woods also come across powerfully as soloists, and, along with fellow white sectionmen trombonist Rod Levitt and baritonist Marty Flax, make a strong point for the “democracy at work” principle that the government so much wanted our less racist southerly neighbors to see in action.