J.J. Johnson/ Kai Winding Trombone Octet: A Night In Tunisia

In April 1956, eight of New York's top trombonists joined an all-star rhythm section to record Jay & Kai + 6, an album that has become a must-have for any trombone lover's music library. The historic recording was an expansion of the immensely successful Jay & Kai recordings featuring J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. Like the quintet recordings, Johnson and Winding take turns as featured soloists with the ensemble. Johnson is up first with his arrangement of the bebop classic "A Night In Tunisia", and he sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Candido Camero's congas set up a trombone groove anchored by Varsalona and Mitchell's beefy bass trombones. Johnson enters a few bars later, gliding smoothly over the others with his pure, dark tone. At the bridge, Urbie Green's screaming lead precedes Johnson's recapitulation of the melody. Johnson's solo soars over his tight, hard-swinging arrangement which builds up to his final cadenza. A bright, dissonant chord caps off the exciting finish, and Johnson leaves one last improvised flourish to remind us of his status as the top dog among the bebop trombonists.

October 04, 2009 · 0 comments


Art Blakey: A Night In Tunisia (featuring Lee Morgan)

In his review of this track as part of his Essential Art Blakey Dozens, my fellow Jazz.com compatriot Eric Novod asks, “Is there a more intense, energetic single track anywhere out there?” Well, I’d confidently bet my entire CD collection that there isn’t. From Blakey’s thunderous opening crash through its explosive conclusion, this version of “A Night in Tunisia” is like a roller-coaster ride through a minefield. Hold on to your hat.

Morgan was featured nightly on “A Night in Tunisia” in Diz’s big band from 1956-1958 so he was no stranger to the tune, and pushed by Blakey’s propulsive beat and Timmons’ powerful comping his performance here reaches new heights. The rumbling Mt. Blakey erupts with the ferocity of ten volcanoes as the trumpeter enters; spitting some hot fire of his own, Morgan dodges the drummer’s bombs at first before rocketing through a monstrous, mind-blowing solo. His unaccompanied cadenza is one of the great moments in jazz trumpeting with forcefully driving lines, flurried trills, and stuttering blues licks pieced together with astounding precision. Blakey, famous for vocally encouraging his bandmates from his drum stool, goads on his brilliant young trumpeter at 8:42 (“Play yo’ instrument!”) and again after a particularly nasty lick at 9:06 (“Get mad!”).

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments


Clifford Brown: A Night In Tunisia

This has been Brownie’s most controversial date since its release by Columbia in 1973. For close to 30 years this has been propagated as Clifford’s last session, reportedly done just hours before his death in the horrific turnpike accident. Billy Root himself, in a Cadence interview, said that the date occurred maybe a year prior to his death—because he was out on the road with Stan Kenton when the crash happened. (He was accurate—tour dates show him in Wisconsin at the time of Brown’s accident.) University of the Arts professor Don Glanden and myself tracked down Ellis Tollin, who owned the drum shop in Philadelphia where this jam session took place, and also hosted and played drums on the weekly sessions. They were called “Swing Club” jam sessions and they took place every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. from roughly 1954-1956, mainly for the benefit of the city’s underage musicians and fans to hear and play with the jazz stars who were appearing at Philadelphia’s Blue Note Club. Tollin produced flyers from the session, dated for May 31, 1955, complete with photos and a description listing the tunes and proceedings. The fact that Tollin himself thought these were still the recordings of Brownie’s last night leads me to believe that Brown did indeed play at Music City on his way out of town to Chicago, but this was not the recording of it (he played there many times). Others reported hearing Clifford there that evening as well. The Columbia date is completely erroneous—they list Monday, June 25th as the 1956 session date. The sessions always took place on Tuesday evenings. Also, Clifford’s fatal crash was not on June 26th, as commonly reported, but in the very early morning hours (1 a.m.) of Wednesday, June 27th, according to the Pennsylvania State Police report. That is neither here nor there when it comes down to the music, but I believe that it is proper to set the historical record straight.

It is very appropriate that “A Night In Tunisia” was chosen for the jam. Gillespie was an early champion of Brown after Clifford sat in with Diz’s big band in 1949, in Wilmington, Delaware, and flabbergasted him. He also personally encouraged Brownie to pursue music while he was recovering from his 1950 car accident. After the traditional intro, Brown takes the melody in his inimitable style and plays a four-bar break into his solo which excites the crowd. The rhythm section re-enters a beat late, but this doesn’t faze Brown. His ensuing five choruses (over three and a half consecutive minutes!) are full of blistering high notes, cascading triplets, diminished sequences and patterns, and emphatic repeated figures. He builds climax after climax. It is a solo that makes one pause and thank the stars that it was saved on tape! Root follows with four choruses of feel-good swing, sounding bold, confident and as melodic as Clifford. Sam Dockery, a friend of Clifford’s and future Blakey Jazz Messenger, is up next on piano—unfortunately, his outing is reduced down to just one chorus on most releases. Brown returns for two more ‘fire breathing’ choruses, Tollin providing wonderful support and interplay, and plays through the head into a short cadenza. By this time, Brown’s constant forays into the upper register have taken a toll and it is a struggle for him to get some of his high notes to speak. He must have created a little melodramatic scene during the cadenza because the audience chuckles for a moment. He finally reaches his intended note amidst audience cheering.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Dexter Gordon: A Night In Tunisia

Discouraged by the palpable lack of appreciation throughout the first twenty years of his career, Dexter Gordon relocated to Europe from 1962-1976. Even though he was still under contract with Blue Note and returned to the States for sessions and occasional gigs, Gordon appeared both fulfilled and re-energized by the European scene in the 1960s and recorded some of his finest live music at the Montmartre Club in Copenhagen—handfuls of which have been released on disc.

Dexter was certainly not the only American in Europe during these years, and it’s the reunion of Dexter Gordon with fellow expat Bud Powell (from their classic bop session seventeen years earlier) and famed American swing-to-bop drummer Kenny Clarke that combine to form one of Gordon’s finest studio efforts during his decade-and-a-half in Europe. A super relaxed solo-break begins Gordon’s improvisation over this bebop staple, but this serene atmosphere doesn’t last long. In the blink of an eye, Dexter has committed to one of his more heated improvisations—complete with repetitive Coltrane-esque yelps that make us wonder if what we’re hearing is stemming from a place of joy or ferocity, or perhaps a bit of both. Challenging and entirely musically rewarding, Our Man in Paris comprises an album’s worth of fascinating listening.

April 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Martial Solal: A Night in Tunisia

It's utterly impossible to predict how Martial Solal will play the most familiar standards. He's likely to start at the end, the middle, the second half of the beginning, put it upside down or play different sections with each hand. The man is totally unpredictable. He knows it, likes it, and so do we. From September 1993 to June 1994, France Musique, one of the French state radio channels, invited Solal to improvise every Sunday afternoon in one of their studios, in front of an audience, and these concerts were broadcast live and recorded. On this Dizzy Gillespie classic, Solal has all the fun he can get: heavily rhythmic chord clusters to begin, bits of melody among flurries of arpeggios, a true demonstration of piano pyrotechnics that would be overwhelming if the lightness of touch and the constant rhythm changes didn't continually keep our attention sharp. Then the theme becomes increasingly clear, the left hand maintaining a stride- like comping as the right frolics randomly. And we slowly realize that Solal not only does whatever he wants with whatever he wants, but has given us a lesson in jazz history by bringing the Gillespie theme backward to the prewar era, and forward to … himself.

January 19, 2009 · 0 comments


Sonny Rollins (featuring Elvin Jones): A Night in Tunisia

In the late 1940s and early '50s, a young Elvin Jones performed on a handful of impressive recording sessions, including a Miles Davis date (with Charles Mingus on bass) and work with Kenny Burrell, Art Farmer, J.J. Johnson, and Elvin's brother Thad Jones. It was this legendary pianoless trio showcase, however, that truly propelled Elvin into his first-call position.

Many of Jones's strongholds are on display in this 9-minute track: his heavy, laid-back Latin groove, his powerful ride-cymbal pattern that often accentuates the final beat instead of the first (ding ding-DA, ding ding-DA instead of DING ding-da DING ding-da), and his rapid-fire over-the-barline triplet fills effortlessly executed while simultaneously maintaining his unique ride-cymbal pattern. While Jones would go on to develop and perfect many of these characteristics over the course of his career, his experimentation here (without another comping rhythm-section member) is the perfect introduction to the Elvin Jones trademarks that had already begun modifying the vocabulary of the jazz drummer.

August 02, 2008 · 0 comments


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: A Night in Tunisia

Is there a more intense, energetic single track anywhere out there? The Messengers absolutely tear through the head of this tune, replete with Blakey's blistering fills throughout the "pre-sax-break" vamp. Shorter offers up a fine solo, opting for a minimalist, harmonic approach to filling up Bird's revolutionary break of 14 years before. Morgan blazes through his solo space, and Blakey's energetic hi-hat and clever Latin-percussion-drenched background figures allow bassist Jymie Merritt to solo without sacrificing the tremendous momentum that has built up. The presence of Latin percussion underneath what would normally be Blakey's unaccompanied drum solo frees him to experiment with melodic rhythms that make this one of his finest and most unique solos. Cadenzas by Morgan, Shorter and Blakey top off this classic, intense, energetic performance.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments


Sylvain Luc: A Night in Tunisia

Sylvain Luc has been one of the new wonders of jazz guitar in France for the last 15 years, and his Trio Sud has him playing with two other great musicians and good friends. It takes that to follow his guitar on its inventive forays through rhythms and harmony, with a constant attention to melody. Here, he never strays far from the song's theme, yet plays with it in a way that brings new surprise every few bars. Incredibly long phrases, chords sequences whose rhythm varies endlessly, little countermelodies – this is imagination at its best, with an almost acoustic sound that lets the fantastic technique speak for itself without the help of any electric device.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments


The Quintet: A Night in Tunisia

In theory, when you join a bunch of all-star musicians into a band you are going to get some great music. In practice, however, more times than one would expect, these gatherings of legends don't quite work. First, you have to deal with the extra-large egos that most legends have. The founding fathers on hand for this 1953 bebop reunion were certainly no exception. The spotlight has only so much room in it. Second, even assuming all are well behaved, the rehearsal time needed to bring the best cohesion into an all-star unit may not be available. This is true even of players who have performed together often in the past. These factors, and others, must be considered when listening to recordings of this nature. So, yes, this performance of "A Night in Tunisia" was not as tight as it could have been. There are open spaces and some relaxed turns that at times almost threaten to take the bop away. But jazz itself was changing. These players were not immune to that reality, and I think it shows a bit in this rendition. So add that to the equation as well. But still you find yourself listening intently as each artist displays his individual brilliance. This is history, man! These cats would be good in any era or in any genre. Even if Dizzy and Bird et al. were just going through the motions (which I am not suggesting applies in this case), they would still be great. They had it together even if they weren't that together.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments


Dizzy Gillespie: A Night in Tunisia (1989)

Of all the versions available, this live recording of "A Night in Tunisia" is noteworthy for its all-star cast and eight minutes of closing cadenzas, each of which is a composition-in-miniature: (1) Gillespie makes a brief, nuanced statement, an invitation to the others that could be construed as a passing of the (jazz) standard; (2) James Moody weaves themes through harmonically adventurous territory, in and out of the highest registers of his tenor sax; (3) trumpeter Claudio Roditi picks up on Moody's soulful suggestions and transports the band into a samba feel, using his horn to mimic the sound of a Brazilian cuica drum; and (4) Arturo Sandoval changes directions completely, taking the audience through a tour of classical themes on piccolo trumpet before switching back to his usual horn for a four-octave sequence of Gillespie's signature ending.

February 05, 2008 · 1 comment


Charlie Parker: A Night in Tunisia (1946)

Charlie Parker's alto break on his Dial recording of "A Night in Tunisia" lasts only seven seconds -- but it may be the most important jazz moment of the decade. The whole bebop revolution is crammed into this break: the off-the-cuff virtuosity, the rhythmic displacements, the defiance of pop music expectations, and, above all, the declaration of bebop as a progressive artistic movement in which such radical gestures possessed their own intrinsic validity. This is shock-and-awe jazz, and it sounds just as breathtaking today as it did back in 1946. The song continues after this extraordinary moment -- indeed, the solos have just started -- but everything now is anticlimactic. Bird has just shown how far ahead he is of everyone else in the studio, including Miles Davis (age 19), who has the unenviable job of following the alto solo. A remarkable performance even by the Everest-high standards set by Parker in his earlier work.

January 06, 2008 · 1 comment


Dizzy Gillespie: A Night in Tunisia (1946)

Here's Diz & Gang back in Manhattan but minus Charlie Parker, who jumped ship after their holiday engagement at Billy Berg’s Hollywood nightspot. Bird hoped to score some Mexican dope but wound up tending lettuce at the loony farm for six months. Anyhow, this 3-minute take of Dizzy's finest composition is brilliant even without Bird, thanks to great solos by Diz and tenorman Don Byas. The only drawback is the clatter of Milt Jackson's vibes—like empty glass milk bottles accidentally knocked down a cement staircase. Otherwise this is Diz at his best, and that's as good as bebop gets.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments


Michel Legrand: A Night in Tunisia

In 1958, when Michel Legrand landed stateside to conduct American all-stars playing his arrangements, some participants must've wondered what this Frenchman was up to. His mid-'50s international success with easy-listening travel-themed albums hardly bode well. Not to worry. For a fiery "Night in Tunisia," Legrand pits four trumpets against hard-blowing altoists Phil & Quill, and everybody wins. It's a special treat to hear back-to-back trumpeters Joe Wilder, who had the prettiest tone in the business, and Art Farmer, also with the prettiest tone. (Okay, so sue us. We can't make up our minds.) In any language, Legrand Jazz is Le Grand Jazz.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments


Dizzy Gillespie: A Night in Tunisia (Live at Town Hall, 1945)

With their landmark first studio session still warm on the shelves, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker treated a New York audience with a thrilling performance of their new and innovative style of jazz, which would soon be known as bebop. Recently discovered, this live set presents Gillespie and Parker at the height of their powers. Gillespie delivers a marvelously articulate solo on his most celebrated composition, “A Night In Tunisia,” displaying astonishing agility and control in all registers of his trumpet. His quick-fingered, spitfire runs and harmonic eccentricities dramatically revolutionized trumpet playing, and his talent has not been surpassed since.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments


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