Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dizzy Gillespie And The Double Six Of Paris

© -  Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Dizzy Gillespie And The Double Six Of Paris [Philips 830224-2] Gillespie; James Moody (as); Kenny Barron, Bud Powell (p); Chris White, Pierre Michelot (b); Kenny Clarke, Rudy Collins (d); The Double Six Of Paris (v). 7-9/63.

“This almost-forgotten record doesn't deserve its obscurity. The tracks are small-group bop, with the Double Six group dubbing in supremely athletic vocals later- normally a recipe for aesthetic disaster, but it's done with such stunning virtuosity that it blends credibly with the music, and the interweaving is done with some restraint. Gillespie himself takes some superb solos - the tracks are compressed into a very short duration, harking back to original bop constraints, and it seems to focus all the energies - and even Powell, in his twilight, sounds respectable on the ten tracks he plays on.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

I couldn’t agree more with the Cook and Morton assessment of this recording; it deserves more awareness and appreciation than it has received over the years, if only because of the quality of musicianship it required to bring it into existence.

I also wholeheartedly agree with the following insights and observations about the merits of the recording as contained in the 1986 Max Harrison’s insert notes to the CD edition. Max includes details about the origins of each of the bebop anthems that make-up this masterful recording, as well as, the reasons why the lyrics chosen to create the vocalese are based on allusion to the genre of Fantasy and Science Fiction [today usually referenced as “speculative fiction”].

If you haven’t heard this music,  do yourself a favor and check it out. It is readily available as both a CD and as an Mp3 download from the major online sellers.

“Words are set to music here, and if you like you can say that the music is "about" the stones the words tell. But the music came first, much of it being heard in its original guise in the 1940's, whereas these performances and the words they use belong to the 1960's. So we should have to say that the stories were discovered in the music at a later date. Really, however, this whole Gillespie - Double Six project is about renewal and transformation, emphasising the gaiety always implicit, often explicit, in the music in its initial form.

That last point is quite important because most of the themes date back to the years immediately following World War II, when bop, indelibly associated with Gillespie and Charlie Parker, proved to be the first major post-war development in jazz. And it was not welcome. People wrote articles with titles like "Bebop: How Deaf Can You Get?" (Time, May 17,1948), saying that beside being cacophonous it was morose, unhealthily introverted.

In fact, while possessing considerable technical sophistication, bop conveyed great high spirits, not least the exaltation of brilliant young musicians who had totally conquered their instruments and could play whatever came into their heads. That feeling is still evident in Gillespie's remarkable contributions to these later recordings with the Double Six. He had a hand in composing nine of the twelve themes used here, and four are his work alone. Most of them, as will be seen from the details given below, made their appearance within a very few years, this suggesting the maturity, and completeness, of Gillespie's style in the latter half of the 1940's, and of the bop idiom itself,

But that was a long time ago by the early 1960's, let alone now, and hence the transformation and renewal spoken of above. Here the big bands and small instrumental combos that Gillespie normally fronts are replaced by the Double Six, a vocal group led by Mimi Perrin which is as accomplished in its way as the trumpeter is in his. Even allowing for the help given by recording techniques, it is astonishing that at many points the power of the Double Six's seven virtuosic voices approximates to the impact of a large band.

In fact this has remained one of the most impressive deployments of a group of voices on jazz records. That is to say that the singing is imbued with the spirit of jazz, the participation of such major figures as Gillespie, Bud Powell, and Kenny Clarke obviously being a crucial factor. Clarke in particular ensures that every bar swings decisively. Nor was the traffic all one way, for the stimulus of an unusual set of musical circumstances gave rise to some of Gillespie's best improvising of this period.

What happened was that he recorded the instrumental parts of 10 of these performances in company with Powell, Clarke, and the outstanding French bassist Pierre Michelot in Paris on July 8,1963. Two further pieces were done with Gillespie's then-regular quartet of James Moody (saxophone), Kenny Barron (piano), Chris White (bass), and Rudy Collins (drums) in Chicago on September 20,1963. The choral arrangements, built around, though necessarily departing from, the routines of the trumpeter's earlier big band or small combo versions of the items, were made by Lab Schifrin in collaboration with Miss Perrin.

These were set down by the Double Six and the results superimposed on the instrumental foundation to produce the complete versions. This in itself involved multi-recording because the scores often required that a singer execute more than one part. In the course of preparing these many-voiced scores Schifrin and the leader of the Double Six discovered that they were both readers of science fiction and fantasy, as was Gillespie himself, and so Miss Perrin based most of the French lyrics she wrote for these pieces on ideas of the fantasy or science-fiction type.

Taking them in the order in which they were recorded, "One bass hit" (Pierre dans l'espace) was composed by Gillespie and his arranger Gil Fuller in 1946, "Two bass hit" (Tout a coup tu as peur) by Gillespie and John Lewis a year later. Both were initially vehicles for the great bassist Ray Brown, so Michelot treads in illustrious footsteps here. In the former piece the words tell how, tired of life on Earth, Michelot sets out for the constellation of Orion, although the voices warn him that its denizens may not look much like Earth people. Sure enough, in "Two bass hit" we learn that they have four heads each; they do like jazz, but Michelot gets homesick and returns to Earth. These two pieces belong to him and the Double Six rather than to Gillespie, and this despite the trumpeter's double-time entry on "One bass hit" and solo amid rather than in front of the rich vocal textures. On "Two bass hit," though, his solo is outstanding, full of contrasts yet logically ordered, and given an unusual slant by the vocal support.

Try a backwards spelling of "Emanon" (Pourquoi tu n'as pas de nom?), a piece written and first recorded by Gillespie in 1946. This new version follows John Lewis's original big-band arrangement quite closely but the trumpeter improves on the occasion with a magnificent solo. The story this piece now tells is of a stranger who seeks to lure Dizzy and the Double Six to a land where nothing and nobody has a name; in a passage based on James Moody's 1946 tenor saxophone solo, now taken by Miss Perrin, this interesting character explains that this is because everything is there part of the same huge Single Entity.

Earliest of these themes is "Blue 'n' boogie" (now Le monde vert), first recorded by Gillespie in 1945. In it the Double Six decide to enter the "green world" of the writer Brian Aldiss, but more to the point is that the trumpeter here plays the first of a number of obviously deliberate variants of his initial recorded solos. It is fascinating to listen to the older master commenting on the younger master's thoughts — renewal and transformation indeed. In contrast, "The Champ" (Robie le robot), which dates from 1951, seems to begin inarticulately, but voices and rhythm section quickly sweep in, the trumpet riding their riffs. Gillespie's tone is itself vocalised, of course, and the mixture of brass and voices is again intriguing. Robie is the fastest of robots, hence "The Champ," and it seems especially apt that the trumpet solo should be superb. Powell is heard from, too, sounding more laconic than in former times yet still with pithy things to say.

Just as masterly is Gillespie's opening muted solo on "Tin tin deo" (Rites du Vaudou), a piece in his favourite Latin-American vein that makes an effective change from the bop themes. First recorded in 1951, it here tells of black magic. Powell, not much featured in Latin-American contexts, surfaces again, then Gillespie returns, the mute gone, soaring gloriously over the voices. "Groovin’ high" (La Vallee des Dieux) was initially recorded in 1945 with Charlie Parker and here tells another engaging story. Miss Perrin, taking Bird's original solo, relates how, alone and sad in his room one night, he dreams of a valley of eternal happiness where Dizzy is king, He signifies his desire to go there by improvising a particularly beautiful solo; and all at once he is there, and will rest and play in peace forever. As for Gillespie, he offers a marvellous variant of his own 1945 solo.

More vintage bop from 1946, "Ow!" (L'epee de Rhiannon) here adapts a Leigh Brackett story, "The Sword of Rhiannon." Lalo Schifrin is sent to Mars by trumpeter and singers to find the ancient tomb of Rhiannon and bring back the magic sword it contains. He does so, and leaves Mars, but his ultimate fate is unknown. Tadd Dameron's "Hot house" (Le manoir de Loup-Garou) was the subject of a further Parker-Gillespie collaboration and the trumpeter plays another latter-day variation on what he recorded in 1945. Ringing the changes in a different way, Powell solos here in place of Al Haig, his opposite number in bop pianism who was heard on the original version. Meanwhile the voices sing of werewolves.

In "Anthropology" (Le bonnet de Dizzy), on the other hand, the Double Six's tersely disciplined contributions, hurtling along at a real bop tempo, are scarcely less impressive than the trumpeting for which they express such admiration. Muted again, Gillespie's busy phrases, in the "Tin tin deo" vein, are quite sharp-edged, harshly accented. He is followed by a calmer Powell, whose quotation from the traditional "High society" clarinet chorus is doubtless ironic. The two postscript tracks are of lighter weight. "Con Alma" is brisker than Gillespie's 1954 recording and invokes the gods of Grecian mythology. "Oo-shoo-be-doo-be," from 1952, uses Joe Carroll's original words, finds the Double Six quite subdued, and requires no explanation.

  • 1986 Max Harrison