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 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


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


James Moody & Hank Jones: Birks' Works

To hear these two octogenarian jazz giants play so effortlessly together is a testament to the universality of the music and its unifying nature. On this Dizzy Gillespie tune with an oft-quoted melody line, the mellifluous James Moody reveals his unmistakable soulful side. Moody's mellow sound is a joy to behold, as is his inventiveness. Jones for his part is the consummate accompanist, for most of the tune ably laying back as Moody explores the tune's soul. When Hank does take his turn, his lyricism is emboldened by his familiarity with the classic, on which he nonetheless makes a fresh statement. Coolman and Nussbaum do their best to just let these two icons strut their stuff.

October 05, 2008 · 0 comments


Jonathan Voltzok: Shawnuff'

It would be a huge mistake to try to one-up Diz & Bird. Thankfully, most jazz musicians have a lot more sense than that. On "Shawnuff'," Jonathan Voltzok pays tribute to the Gillespie/Parker classic "Shaw 'Nuff" by (aside from slightly altering its name) taking those incredible unison lines and rendering them with trombones. Slide Hampton, having several Gillespie-related tribute records on his résumé, pushes Voltzok into the 'bone stratosphere. Voltzok's rhythm section adds to the action, particularly pianist Aaron Goldberg, who comps with abandon and tosses in some great accents just when the horns are changing direction. It's says a lot about a composition when, after all these years, musicians can unearth new gems from such well-trod ground.

September 28, 2008 · 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


Milt Jackson & John Coltrane: Be-Bop

There was more to Milt Jackson than putting on a tuxedo with the Modern Jazz Quartet and performing what some perceived as soulless, overly refined and restrained jazz, usually in distinguished concert halls rather than smoky night clubs. Yet even with the MJQ, Jackson never lost his bluesy edge and found plenty of challenges in the music. Away from the MJQ, he'd enter the recording studio to enthusiastically engage outstanding musicians such as Lucky Thompson, Cannonball Adderley, Coleman Hawkins, Wes Montgomery and, last but not least, John Coltrane. Jackson had first played with Coltrane in Dizzy Gillespie's Sextet in the early '50's, but of course this was a much different Trane in 1959 – the tenorman was just three months away from his breakthrough Giant Steps session.

Probably their past Gillespie connection led them to play Dizzy's "Be-Bop" amidst a repertoire of standards and blues. Coltrane takes the theme, then gives way to Jackson's bracing improvisation ably supported by Jones's assertive comping, Chambers's pulsing bassline and Kay's insistent cymbal beat. Jackson's brisk single-note lines speed by almost in a blur, and his rhythmically emphatic attack is accentuated by his characteristically pronounced vibrato. Coltrane solos with beseeching runs, slurs, wails and intervallic leaps, his momentum maintained confidently for the duration, although a bit of repetition in his then- characteristic "sheets of sound" approach becomes apparent near the end. Jones's concise solo is bop at its most thoughtful and engrossing. Bags and Trane then trade fours, Jackson's sparse phrases seemingly intended to provoke Coltrane's fertile imagination, which they succeed grandly in doing.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments


Jon Irabagon's Outright: Groovin' High

In this remake of Dizzy Gillespie's 1945 classic, Jon Irabagon's group goes where few men travel. They play the bebop standard's intro at breakneck speed and with great facility while lending a sense of free form to the body of the piece. This is not for those looking to follow comfortably along with the familiar melody. Irabagon changes time signature throughout and at times verges on crescendos that go off in a direction barely tied to the original theme. Make no mistake, these are talented musicians looking at things in their own way. This may not be for everyone, and I myself find it challenging at times, which is why I chose the only song on the album that I could have some reference to. As with anything different, it tests the conventions of present-day acceptability. But Jon Irabagon's Outright musical forays are at times interestingly exploratory and should not be dismissed out of hand.

May 03, 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


Gerald Wilson: Groovin' High

Gerald Wilson's arrangement (the tune is based on the chord changes of the standard "Whispering") was the first-known big band setting of one of the anthems of the new music called bebop, and proved that his was one of the most modern bands at that time. Recorded for a small label named Excelsior Records, this didn't get much distribution, but was certainly heard by many listeners who embraced the most up-to-date trends in jazz. Solos are by Dotson, Davis and Bunn, the most boppish of the soloists. Wilson even includes a reference to "A Night in Tunisia" before the shout chorus.

April 03, 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


Alan Pasqua, Dave Carpenter & Peter Erskine: Con Alma

(Editor's Note: This recent trio release, a reunion of the group previously heard on Badlands and Live at Rocco, was released on Fuzzy Music, Peter’s independent record label. According to, “many artists find themselves dipping into rich cultural pools of musical styles, beliefs and realities that do not fit into the large, corporate/record company way of thought or aesthetics. The only way to make some of this music available was to start our own company. Fuzzy Music® has been created and is offered to you in a spirit of creativity and conscience, with our promise to strive earnestly to find and produce the best quality music we know how.” E.N.)

Hey, you never know when you might run into a jazz critic on a desert island… “Here’s some fresh water, HEY have you heard my latest CD?” Alan Pasqua and Dave Carpenter are 2 of my favorite musicians to play with; Alan’s arrangement of this Dizzy Gillespie classic is ingenious, and I actually like what I played on this. The sound of the recording is really good, too. Pardon my immodesty for including it.

March 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Toshiko Akiyoshi: Con Alma

Con alma, meaning "with soul," was written by Dizzy Gillespie, born in Cheraw, South Carolina. Yet, as shown by Toshiko Akiyoshi, the soul in question need not derive from collard greens and black-eyed peas. Born in China, Toshiko moved at 17 to Japan following World War II, so it's unclear whether Peking duck or Ginza sushi accounts for her deep-dish piano flavoring. A composer herself, she obviously delights in Dizzy's recipe, which she not only prepares to perfection but delivers with the skill of a Zen waitress carrying steaming takeout on a Honda Super Sprint motorcycle through rush-hour Tokyo streets. Pedestrians fend for yourselves. This lady hauls alma.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments


Karrin Allyson: Something Worth Waiting For (Con Alma)

I've always admired Dizzy Gillespie's composition "Con Alma" for its clever chord progression - a good transposing assignment for students -- but its melody bores me with its simple half notes and held whole notes. But Allyson's reconfiguration of this piece into "Something Worth Waiting For," with lyrics by Chris Caswell, was a revelation. I never envisioned that this quirky harmonic exercise was capable of such emotional depths. Some singers are storytellers, others are entertainers, many are just poseurs; but Allyson is a psychologist, probing inside the lyric for the song inside the song. Highly recommended.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments


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