Dizzy Gillespie was a regular at the Monterey Jazz Festival, but the audience at the 1965 edition was witness to one very special performance. By this time Gillespie and the core members of his current band had already been together for a few years, and while they had jelled to a point that all bands hope to reach, where their interactions become wholly intuitive, they were also open to new innovation. From the first notes of "Trinidad, Goodbye," written by pianist Kenny Barron, the Gillespie group is locked into high gear, with the bandmembers feeding off one another's cues swiftly and creatively. Gillespie's trumpet plays tag with James Moody's blistering saxophone, and Barron keeps the sprightly melody moving atop the proceedings. "A Night in Tunisia," a highlight of any Gillespie set, is modernistic in its funky rhythm, Moody (on flute here), bassist Christopher White, and drummer Rudy Collins opening things up wide enough for Diz to jump in and take over, which he does in a freewheeling, jovial way. Over the course of its nearly 11 minutes, everyone gets a chance to shine, but in the end the piece belongs to the rhythm section. Speaking of which, not everything is taken at NASCAR speed here; there's plenty of breathing space, and in fact virtually all of the 11-plus-minute "Ungawa" is given over to guest conga player Big Black, a virtuoso on that instrument if ever there were one. Gillespie peeks in for a few moments, but even he must have wanted to stand by and watch, because he soon disappears and lets the drummer do what he's gotta do. The ballad "Day After" is a smooth respite following the fiery "Trinidad, Goodbye" opener, a shining example of Diz as bluesman, and the Caribbean-tinted "Poor Joe," on which Gillespie dares to sing, is a light note in an otherwise weighty affair. The only downside (other than the less than crisp sound quality, understandable for a 1965 live recording) is the five-minute comedy sketch midway through. Oh, it's funny, and the audience was in stitches. But on CD it's not something one needs to hear more than once, and it will cause many to reach for the fast-forward button to get on with the music.
Live at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival Review
by Jeff Tamarkin