Thursday, February 7, 2008

Dizzy Gillespie: Live at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival

MJF Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.7.08
Buy CD: Live at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival

Once upon a time, the Monterey Jazz Festival was the venue for both audiences and musicians. 

This release was recorded live at the 1965 edition of that annual concert ... and, unfortunately, sounds like it. The festival was a huge, open-air affair, somewhat like a football field with a tent-like structure around the rim and over the stage, located at one end. Most of the audience members were seated in the central area, exposed to whatever weather existed at the time. 

Higher-priced ticket holders were under cover of the "tent," but many were hundreds of feet away from the stage. Needless to say, the acoustics were terrible; at that time, electronic correction devices were relatively unknown. As a result, this CD's auditory quality is really poor. 

In 1965, Dizzy was in his Afro/Cuban phase. He was touring with a basic quintet: himself on trumpet, James Moody on flute and tenor sax, Kenny Barron on piano, Christopher White on bass and Rudy Collins on drums. They had just been augmented by Big Black on congas. 

Although this recording's audio quality is poor, the musical content is much better. Dizzy is at his best: At this stage of his career, he had total command of his instrument and played a lot in the higher trumpet range. Moody was concentrating more on flute than tenor sax, and was excellent on that instrument. Barron was playing pure bop-tinged jazz, and White's bass was a major driving force. 

Collins was an adequate drummer, but in this session his "ride" cymbal was too close to the microphones; as a result, at times he drowns out Moody and Barron. Big Black's congas adds a Latin flavor to the beat, but — for my taste — are overwhelming at times. 

The CD is only a tad more than 45 minutes long, and almost 5 minutes are spent on what was supposed to be a comedic interchange between Dizzy and Big Black after one of the tunes. It might have been amusing at the time, but it sure isn't politically correct now, because of racial references. 

If you must have everything Dizzy ever did, this album may be worthwhile as a collectors item ... but plenty of other discs are musically superior.

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