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Dizzy Gillespie Big Band - Showtime at the Spotlite: 52nd Street, New York City, June 1946

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Artist: Dizzy Gillespie Big Band

Album: Showtime at the Spotlite: 52nd Street, New York City, June 1946

Label: Uptown

Review date: May. 19, 2009

Bob Sunenblick adds yet another essential reissue to his venerable Uptown catalog, giving us a further chance to hear some of the 1940s finest performers in great sound and with documentation to match.

Dizzy Gillespie’s late-’40s big band has become the stuff of legend, providing the pedastal for huge talents like James Moody, Milt Jackson and John Coltrane. Here, the band is in its early days, captured in June 1946, at NYC’s Spotlight Lounge. The two-disc set contains material from two shows, which we believe to be from separate evenings, given changes in recording balance. Gillespie had access to several of Tad Dameron’s compositions and arrangements, courtesy of Billy Eckstine, whose pioneering be-bop big band incubated the trumpet player years before. New charts were drawn up by Gill Fuller, who adapted Dizzy’s small-group material for a larger canvas. One of these is the stunning “Things to Come,” based on the small-group vehicle “Bebop,” and heard here in three versions ranging from intense to overpowering. The rendition on the second disc, in particular, is an absolute roiler, volume and impact in the service of the scorching riffs and devastating ensemble punches that were this band’s trademarks.

In a similar vain, the group rips headlong into “Groovin’ High,” another rearrangement from Dizzy’s quintet book. Combo unisons are transformed into rich ensemble harmonies that place these innovative heads in startlingly new contexts.

While the band could swing as hard as it hit, there was plenty of room for the lush and challenging harmonies inherited from masters of previous generations, such as Duke Ellington, who, word has it, was in the audience for one of the sets on offer here. The first version of “The Man I Love,” finds Milt Jackson stretching out on vibes and demonstrating, as Ira Gitler’s notes make plain, a vast musical knowledge as quotations a-plenty inform his gorgeous solo. Then, we are given a reading of Thelonious Monk’s exquisite and then-recent “Round Midnight,” featuring the composer on piano, as these recordings were made during his brief tenure with the band.

There are too many treasures on this set to document in a review, and moments such as Sara Vaughan’s expert phrasing and pure voice on “Don’t Blame Me” simply need to be experienced, verbiage doing them no justice. The recordings were lovingly refurbished by Ted Kendall, who was working from Jerry Newman’s original acetates. Consequently, we have this material in the finest sound possible. It’s admirable, in these days of bootlegged reissues with scanty notes and poor sound, that Sunenblick continues to release first-rate product that will benefit both fans and researchers.

By Marc Medwin

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