In 1999, jazz collectors were thrilled to learn that Consolidated Artists Productions (CAP) was putting out a three-volume series focusing on Dizzy Gillespie's 1956 tour of South America. The recordings from that State Department-sponsored tour, which were made by Gillespie's friend Dave Usher, had remained in the can for 43 years and were being released commercially for the first time. In 1956, touring Latin America with a big band was something that most beboppers could only dream of, but thanks to the State Department's support, it became a reality for Gillespie and his sidemen. Dizzy in South America: Official U.S. State Department Tour, 1956: Vol. 1 finds the brassy trumpeter in fine form on hot-blooded versions of "Manteca," "A Night in Tunisia," and "Cool Breeze" as well as lyrical arrangements of "I Can't Get Started" and "Stella by Starlight." The big band that Gillespie leads is quite cohesive, and his support includes, among others, Quincy Jones on trumpet (Jones served as the tour's musical director), Phil Woods and Jimmy Powell on alto sax, Benny Golson and Billy Mitchell on tenor sax, Melba Liston on trombone, Walter Davis, Jr. on piano, Nelson Boyd on bass and Charlie Persip on drums. Austin Cromer, an obscure but gifted vocalist along the lines of Billy Eckstine and Al Hibbler, joins the band on "Flamingo" and "Seems Like You Just Don't Care." While the sound quality is decent by 1956 standards, CAP's liner notes aren't perfect: they don't give an exact recording date or the specific country and venue. But all things considered, Vol. 1 will definitely be of great interest to collectors.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson