Afro

Gillespie, Dizzy and His Orchestra

album cover

Mambo Kings at Work Here

Dizzy Gillespie's exploration of Latin jazz began in the middle '40s, just after bebop broke from the hipster underworld to startle mainstream listeners. Gillespie was suddenly in demand, and to capitalize he put together a fearsome big band built around Cuban conga player Chano Pozo. The pair wrote a song, "Manteca," that established a new hybrid—brassy, rhythmically terse big-band catcalls over clipped Latin rhythms. The song became a dance floor hit, and on the strength of just a handful of recordings for RCA, Gillespie won major acclaim as a pioneer, if not the primary architect, of Latin jazz.

The trumpet player with the inflated jowls, perhaps the most beloved entertainer in jazz history, returned to Latin jazz many times over the years, most notably on this record. After signing with Verve Records in 1952, Gillespie enlisted Cuban composer Chico O'Farrill to create a longer piece patterned after O'Farrill's trailblazing Afro Cuban Jazz Suite, first recorded by percussionist Machito's orchestra in 1950. The Manteca Suite begins with the famous "Manteca" theme, and then follows a winding path through several other rhythmic styles before ending in a mighty jazz blowing session. In his arrangements for Gillespie, O'Farrill celebrates the snapping vitality of the Afro-Cuban pulse, trusting that if the underlying rhythm is hot, the soloists will eventually start cooking too. Sure enough, the crisply chopped ensemble parts give way to blazing trumpet hijinks, and there are moments when several horn players trade ideas round-robin style.

The second side features a smaller ensemble playing some of Gillespie's most evocative pieces—"A Night in Tunisia," his bustling arrangement of "Caravan." Though less ambitious, these display Gillespie not merely as a master of the specific idiomatic quirks of jazz and Latin music, but among the very few who could combine them into a single coherent language.

Genre: Jazz
Released: 1954, Norgran/Verve
Key Tracks: Afro Cuban Jazz Suite, "A Night in Tunisia."
F.Y.I.: An excellent overview of the origins of Latin jazz is available on the single disc The Original Mambo Kings.
Catalog Choice: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings
Next Stop: Chico O'Farrill: Cuban Blues
Book Pages: 312–313

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