Girl In Landscape

Stephanie Zacharek reviews 'Girl in Landscape' by Jonathan Lethem.

By Michael Ullman
March 5, 1997 1:00AM (UTC)
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recorded between 1957 and 1964, the anthology "Dizzy Talkin'" features Dizzy Gillespie's experiments with what Verve calls "exotic rhythms." They weren't so exotic to Dizzy, who played the congas himself when he couldn't afford to hire the likes of Chano Pozo or Candido to accompany his Afro-Cuban numbers, and who proclaimed in his autobiography, "I always had a feeling for Latin music." It was a feeling that developed after he met Cuban trumpeter Mario Bauza in 1937 and that bore fruit as early as 1941, when the trumpeter wrote the jazz classic "Night in Tunisia." A few years later he recorded the Afro-Cuban "Manteca" and George Russell's "Cubano Be-Cubano Bop," with its dialect chanting by Pozo. No one did more than Dizzy Gillespie to bring new rhythms into modern jazz.

He played them, and he played with them. I once heard Gillespie's last pianist, Panamian Danilo Perez, ask why Gillespie didn't bother to learn the "proper" ways of playing various Latin rhythms. But Gillespie had his own agenda. Pozo's chanting was serious, virtually sacerdotal. Gillespie does a parody of those chants in his own invented dialect to introduce "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac," ending the chant with a barely audible "Your mama." "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac" ends with Gillespie's famous proclamation, "Old Cadillacs never die; the finance company just fade 'em away." In the middle he plays the spiritual as a stomping blues. Dizzy was as interested in conflating genres as in finding new paths, and he never abandoned the blues or the swinging four-four rhythms he grew up with.


On "Dizzy Talkin'," he rips through the early '60s soul hit "Walk on the Wild Side" -- nothing too exotic there -- and plays several pieces written for him by Lalo Schifrin, as well as two of his own pieces and a pair by bebop pianist Mal Waldron. Dizzy himself never sounded better than in the '50s and early '60s. After the grandiose fanfares of his own "Kush," he enters softly with a muted horn in what turns out to be a suggestive coda. He's light-hearted on Joe Cuba's "Bang, Bang," and intensely virtuosic on "Theme from The Cool World." Listening to an anthology like this, it is easy to forget that Gillespie manipulates rhythm brilliantly in every phrase he plays, delaying an entrance, landing on an unexpected note and holding it only to rush off in irregularly grouped spurts of notes. He's not the only soloist here, of course: On "Cool World," one hears enlivening choruses by the then-young Kenny Barron, and saxophonist James Moody is featured repeatedly. One warning about "Dizzy Talkin'": It doesn't contain the seemingly inevitable "Night in Tunisia" or "Manteca," both of which can be found on another Polygram collection, "Compact Jazz" (Mercury).
Feb. 4, 1997

Michael Ullman

Michael Ullman is a jazz writer and lecturer in the music department of Tufts University.

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Jonathan Lethem Music Stephanie Zacharek