VARIOUS ARTISTS / “A Night In Tunisia Mixtape”
1942 – Dizzy Gillespie composed what became one of the anthems of the bebop movement. “A Night In Tunisia” opened the ears of musicians and encouraged them to explore areas that had remained relatively unexplored. Performances of the song had a cataclysmic effect; indeed, performances continue to astound over 65 years later.
Who knows what remains so fascinating about the song. We do know that at least three generations of musicians have undertaken their own interpretations—some of which, in keeping with the song’s birth, are radical treatments.
Usually I have one or maybe two favorites but this time I am hardpressed to chose a favorite or even a few favorites. So here is the Mixtape. You make the call. Enjoy.
P.S. I got the idea to feature this poem from the ongoing revolutions in the Middle East. Obviously, I mean this as a salute to Tunisia which led the way in the current uprisings of revolutions overthrowing tyrants and despots. I also mean this as a sign of solidarity with our Egyptian brothers and sisters who are currently in the forefront of demonstrating the beauty and power of a people’s revolution.
01 A Night In Tunisia – Dizzy Gillespie
This is the master in a big band mode circa 1957 when he was a traveling ambassador of bebop big band jazz. Note the shouts of joy and encouragement coming from the band members.
02 The Hottest New Group In Jazz – Lambert, Hendricks & Ross
That’s Jon Hendricks taking the vocal solo, and what a solo it is. You could describe LH&R as a vocal equivalent of the bebop revolution, especially if you compare LH&R to the Mills Brothers who represented the pre-bop era of jazz-oriented vocal groups.
03 Masters Of Jazz Vol. 7 – Johnny Griffin
Griff left the states and made a home in Europe, so for some he is a relatively obscure or overlooked saxophonist but this cat could play with passion and lightening fast dexterity. Unfortunately the track fades out during the closing drum solo.
04 Spontaneous Inventions – Bobby McFerrin
The amazing Mr. McFerrin working with both Jon Hendricks and The Manhattan Transfer. Here the ensemble takes their cues from big band Gillespie work and Mr. Hendricks reprises his famous vocal solo.
05 Two Of A Kind – Donald Harrison and Christian Scott
Uncle and nephew engage in some laid-back but exciting New Orleans-styled modern jazz permutations in that favored half-fast style common among Crescent City jazz musicians.
06 Letter from Home – Eddie Jefferson
The king of bebop jazz vocals, Eddie’s resonant baritone, witty lyrics, and superb musicianship are often considered one of, if not “the”, beginnings of vocalese in jazz where singers fit lyrics to famous jazz solos.
07 Italuba – Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez
Fantastic Cuban Drummer Horacio Hernandez offers a stirring and sterling Afro-Cuban workout.
08 Crazy! Baby – Jimmy Smith
This version surprised me because of the opening direction when the funky jazz organist jumps in a modernistic Larry Young-like bag that never lets up in intensity. The title of the album got it right: this is crazy, baby, and that’s great!
09 A Night in Tunisia – Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
I can’t tell you how many hours in the practice room I spent back in 1968 learning both the opening and the drum solo on this recording. I marvel every time I hear brother Blakey pounding with unbridled exuberance and expertise. If you like drums, you’ll love this version.
10 Jazz Roots – McCoy Tyner
Solo McCoy at the keyboards. With a nod to Art Tatum, McCoy demonstrates is mastery not only of fleet fingers in the tremble register but more impressively the harmonic sophistication manifested in Tyner’s booming left hand is astounding.
11 The Symphony Sessions – Dizzy Gillespie
This man was a marvel, here he enfolds his jazz combo within a symphony orchestra and they essay what some might term a “third stream” take except Diz and his merry band of demolition experts are in no mood for tempered and tepid chamber music. These cats are on fire.
12 Diz – Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Cuban pianist Rubalcaba manages to go outside and stay inside simultaneously. The harmonic underpinning remains but the melody is completely deconstructed at times and at other times hinted at or fleetingly stated. Moreover, rather than bombast, this is a quiet, hot ice reading. Will wonders never cease?
13 In Montreux – Dee Dee Bridgewater
Listen to the lyrics on this sensuous take that highlights the revolutionary character of the song.
14 I Am Not Afraid – Hugh Masekela
South African trumpeter Masekela draws on West African flavors to enliven a rhythm-heavy take on this song dedicated to a North African country. Pan-Africanism anyone?
15 REBOP The Savoy Remixes – Duke Jordan
Don’t forget the hip hop. A straight ahead version by pianist Duke Jordan is given the remix treatment to display another facet of this joyous song.
16 Best Of Chaka Khan – Chaka Khan
We know she can sing. We know she can whoop and holler, and now we know she also has jazz abilities—and so, I guess wonders won’t cease.
17 A Night At Kimball's East – Poncho Sanchez
We close with another Afro-Cuban interpretation in which the percussion cooks with the speed of a microwave at the end.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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