Things To Come
(MCG – 2002)
by John Barrett
Near the end of his life, Dizzy Gillespie formed the United Nation Orchestra, a hug group with a spirit to match. Their repertoire covered the whole of Dizzy’s career, and the lineup was loaded with stars, including many who appear on this album. Now led by Jon Faddis (who studied under Gillespie), the Alumni All-Star Big Band continues to tour – on this night they were in Pittsburgh, and the fire is intense. After a brassy theme, “Stablemates” rolls gently, on warm notes by Faddis. Renee Rosnes trickles a cocktail phrase; the band romps back in, confident and powerful. After Jon screams a finale, the applause is infinite – this trend continues throughout the album. “Things to Come” is pugnacious, sporting the same arrangement as the 1946 original. The ensembles are a bit muddy, but that’s expected; this chart could be the most challenging in jazz history.
Faddis goes high on his solo, evoking Dizzy in speed and ferocity. Slide Hampton then takes it mellow; Antonio Hart makes the alto shriek, with a way better solo than John Brown’s original. (Near the end of it, Hart sounds like John Coltrane … another protégé of Dizzy’s.) It’s exhilarating just to hear it – I can imagine how the musicians feel. Compared to this, “Jessica’s Day” is a walk in the park: the flute chirps (Frank Wess), the guitar shimmers (Marty Ashby), and James Moody blows with passion. (Rosnes has a great half-chorus, full of those Red Garland chords.)
“‘Round Midnight” takes the chart from Diz’ ’48 rendition; Jon has Clark Terry’s tone in a brief quote of “Birks’ Works”. The theme is by Wess, on a delicious alto: he’s elegant and mournful, all in the same line. For a moment he sounds like Paul Desmond; I can only say “wow”. “Manteca” gets a funky lift from John Lee’s bass and a lowdown earthy flute (Wess again.) The solos are good, but the chart is magnificent – a groove for the ages. This also applies to “Emanon”, where Renee rolls the blues, the reeds swagger deeply, Wess is a dignified presence, and Faddis heads for the stars. Simple yes, and simply fun.
The next two songs are the work of Benny Golson, another of Dizzy’s distinguished associates. “Whisper Not” starts with a purr, with blasts for punctuation. A highlight for the brass section, they resonate in golden warmth. Faddis slows down, and shines with his best solo. Hart also sparkles, and Jimmy Heath does his bit with charm. Terrell Stafford takes the spotlight on “I Remember Clifford”, deftly played and garnished with love. With its trembling reeds and weeping trombones, this could be a swing band; perhaps it’s too emotional, but Stafford is perfect. “Ray’s Idea” is stated with flash, and “A Night in Tunisia” is many things: a trombone chase, a stratospheric turn by Faddis, and a gaggle of trumpets, each effort topping the last. This indeed is a fit tribute to Dizzy, and a joy for those who love him.