Monday, December 2, 2013

Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Pass, Ray Brown, Mickey Roker: “Dizzy’s Big 4” (2013 re-issue) CD Review

Dizzy’s Big 4 is one of those albums featuring a group of jazz all-stars: Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Joe Pass on guitar, Ray Brown on bass, and Mickey Roker on drums. It was recorded in September of 1974. As part of the Original Jazz Classics Remasters series, Concord Music Group has re-issued this incredible album, along with two previously unreleased bonus tracks. This re-issue also includes new liner notes by Willard Jenkins, as well as the original notes by Benny Green. It was remastered by Joe Tarantino.


The album kicks off with a Dizzy Gillespie composition titled “Frelimo,” a tune that surprisingly begins with a bit of percussion and a kind of funky line on bass. Then when Dizzy and Joe Pass come in, the song takes on a sort of somewhat muted joy. I really love the rhythm of the tune. I got so completely into what Mickey Roker was doing on drums that Dizzy’s sudden exuberance completely caught me off guard. Those great loud bursts are fantastic, especially as the wonderful groove continues under him. Then halfway through the song there is a drum solo quite unlike most drum solos, as there is a constant loud pounding throughout, never letting it stray too far from the main beat. And “Frelimo” ends where it began. The tune’s title refers to the Mozambique Liberation Front.

“Hurry Home”

“Hurry Home” is a sweet, romantic tune written by Joseph Meyer, Robert D. Emmerich and Buddy Bernier, with Dizzy as the joyful lover over the relaxed atmosphere created by the others. Then Ray Brown gets a chance to take the lead spot on bass, which is very cool. Joe Pass takes over on guitar, keeping the romantic tones in place. Dizzy comes back in, loud and clear, like announcing a new, heightened joy, like the woman has just now arrived home, and they’re together at least. His expressions of joy are wonderful.

“Russian Lullaby” by Irving Berlin

Dizzy and the guys offer an interesting take on Irving Berlin’s “Russian Lullaby.” It begins nice and slow, but then Brown and Roker pick up the pace considerably, and then again, and the song rocks and swings, with some tremendous playing by Dizzy over the stunning rhythm. Joe Pass really shows what he can do at this pace, working fast but keeping every note clear. There’s a short, but great section with just Dizzy and Ray Brown. That’s followed by some great work by Roker on drums. And I really love the play between Dizzy and Joe Pass toward the end of the track.

An alternate take of this song is included in the bonus tracks, and it’s excellent. I like Dizzy playing over a short lead by Roker. It ends with a sweet solo by Dizzy.

“Be Bop”

The Dizzy Gillespie composition “Be Bop” is an amazing tune, partly because of the insane pace. Holy moly, check out Joe Pass’ lead section on guitar. It completely blew me away. And of course Dizzy’s work is equally impressive. This track is certainly one of the disc’s highlights. Roker and Brown have a wonderful section too, which leads to a joyous climax, Dizzy and Joe playing beautifully.

“Birks’ Works”

“Birks’ Works” has such a cool groove, and I love Dizzy’s work on this one, his trumpet reaching great heights, but also fooling around with the groove. He seems to have a lot to say in this tune. Joe Pass does some interesting stuff with his turn at lead. Ray Brown also has a good turn leading on bass. He doesn’t get too wild or fancy or anything, but rather plays within the groove, finding all sorts of fun places to play. Right at the end of his solo is some very nice work with him and Dizzy playing together.

“Jitterbug Waltz”

The original album concludes with “Jitterbug Waltz,” which begins with a groovy rhythm on bass and drums. There is something loose and relaxed about this track. It’s a very cool tune, written by Fats Waller.

An alternate, previously unreleased take of this tune is included in the bonus tracks. Check out the vocal play at the beginning, setting the rhythm. This take is wonderful.

CD Track List
  1. Frelimo
  2. Hurry Home
  3. Russian Lullaby
  4. Be Bop (Dizzy’s Fingers)
  5. Birks’ Works
  6. September Song
  7. Jitterbug Waltz
  8. Russian Lullaby (take 6)
  9. Jitterbug Waltz (take 3)

This special re-issue of Dizzy’s Big 4 was released on September 17, 2013 through Concord Music Group as part of the Original Jazz Classics Remasters series. Also released on that date, in the Original Jazz Classics Remasters series, were Duke Ellington And His Orchestra: The Ellington Suites; Zoot Sims: Zoot Sims And The Gershwin Brothers; Oscar Peterson & Stephane Grappelli: Skol; and Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces Volume One.

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