A true joy, Gillespiana revisits the classic five-part jazz suite Lalo Schifrin created for trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie in 1960. It is a brilliant, consistently inventive work that has lost none of its appeal or sheen over nearly four decades worth of time. Surprisingly, Gillespiana has not been recorded since its initial debut in 1960 until now – although Gillespie often performed the work throughout his career and Schifrin presented a 35th anniversary version at New York City’s Lincoln Center in 1995.
The work was originally intended to spotlight the soloists in Dizzy Gillespie’s working quintet (with Schifrin on piano, Leo Wright on alto and flute, Art Davis on bass and Chuck Lampkin on drums) against the sterling backdrop of a richly textured brass section. Here, Schifrin is caught live at a 1996 concert with the quite capable WDR Big Band and in the worthy company of Jon Faddis on trumpet, Paquito D’Rivera on alto and Heiner on flute. Schifrin himself is again at the piano. All are more than up to the task (in fact, Faddis probably knows the original better than Schifrin) and all produce work that stands head-and-shoulders in quality with the standard.
Opening with the Ellingtonian «Prelude,» the same solo order is maintained with Faddis reaching his own dizzying heights, D’Rivera ascending on alto and Schifrin who, after years of exploring a world of musical histories, shows himself to be a far more interesting soloist than he was in 1960. Gillespiana ‘s most famed section, «Blues,» misses Art Davis’s outstanding bass introduction, although bassist John Goldsby is given a brief turn of exploration. Here, Faddis is again featured, followed by Wiberny’s flute and Schifrin’s Monk-like solo, which as good as it is, does not offer the wild fanfare of his 1960 solo.
The «Cubana be-Cubana bop» exotica of «Panamericana» suggests Faddis, as dizzily enchanted as he may be, is really quite a stupendous soloist with his own ideas. D’Rivera, who has recorded Schifrin’s «Jazz Meets The Symphony» series and performs Schifrin’s dissonant «Tropicos» concerto in New York this month (6 / 98), is, too, an excellent foil. Schifrin’s bold, assured solo here is dynamite. Returning to the exotica of «Africana,» Wiberny and Faddis are again featured. But Schifrin’s lovely, expressive piano weaves in and out to set the mood in place of Leo Wright’s snake-charming flute and results in a newly sumptuous, evocative performance.
As percussive motifs mount, «Toccata» subsumes the genesis of all that makes up the suite (and, appropriately, all that inspired Schifrin about Gillespie) and ends in a dramatic flurry and ecstatic activity. Here, D’Rivera, who is reminiscent of Arthur Blythe, takes the honors. The (still) unknown trombone soloist gallantly swaggers through New Orleans. And Faddis solos marvelously with an interesting rebellion (and «Summertime» quotes) before Schifrin closes it all out on a high note.
The disc is rounded out with Villa Lobos’s enchanting «Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5,» for which Schifrin preserves the same gentle, swaying samba arrangement he created for his 1964 LP, New Fantasy. Again utilizing the all-brass backdrop, Schifrin allows the guitar to set the mood. But instead of featuring his piano as he did on the original, he lets Markus Stockhausen’s trumpet state the theme (interestingly, nothing from Jimmy Smith and Lalo Schifrin’s 1964 disc The Cat, which also highlights the brass-and-soloist concept, is featured here).
Lalo Schifrin’s diversity doesn’t often bring him into jazz: This year alone, he’s recorded in mostly classical contexts, composed scores for the upcoming films Tango and Something To Believe In and will coordinate a Three Tenors gala in July. Gillespiana, the second release on Schifrin’s own Aleph label, is cause to celebrate. It’s jazz the old-fashioned way: brilliantly conceived, beautifully and creatively executed and always a joy to hear and hear again. Also available via mail at «www.schifrin.com» .
Tracks:Gillespiana Suite: Prelude, Blues, Panamericana, Africana, Toccata; Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5.