Side One: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
- Dizzie Gillespie's Big 4 returns with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides - exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- The size, clarity, presence and energy of this obviously live-in-the-studio recording are wonderful - plenty of Tubey Magic to boot
- 4 1/2 stars - on a copy this natural, clean and clear, the spontaneous interplay among these four jazz luminaries is laid out for all to hear
- "...one of [Gillespie's] best ensemble performances... his playing is superb and he is in command of the material... the musicians play off each other well and do a great job of supporting Gillespie. A big 4, indeed."
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This original Pablo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to "see" the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It's what vintage all analog recordings are known for -- this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What the best sides of Dizzy Gillespie's Big 4 form 1975 have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1975
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above.
Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren't veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we've heard them all.
Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.
Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.
What We're Listening For on Dizzy Gillespie's Big 4
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks for the guitar, trumpet and drums, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
- Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering -- which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
- Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren't "back there" somewhere, way behind the speakers. They're front and center where any recording engineer worth his saltwould have put them.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Dizzy Gillespie - trumpet Ray Brown - bass Joe Pass - guitar Mickey Roker - drums
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic that is a key part of the appeal of these wonderful originals.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
Be Bop (Dizzy's Fingers)
As great a musician as he was, jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's best recorded work seems to be when he shared the bill with other players. His partnership with fellow bop innovator Charlie Parker immediately comes to mind. The classic sides they cut in the 1940s proved to be the foundation for much of jazz in the decades that followed. Later on in his career, album collaborations... also seemed to spur Gillespie toward some inspired playing. So it is great to see Dizzy Gillespie's Big 4 (shortened to Dizzy's Big 4 for CD release) still in print, as it is one of his best ensemble performances.
...Joining Gillespie on this 1974 date were guitarist Joe Pass, bass player Ray Brown, and drummer Mickey Roker. Of Roker I don't know much, but both Pass and Brown had successful solo careers in addition to performing with other musicians. The black-and-white cover shot of the four men, casually dressed and hanging out in a lodge-like room, provides an indication of the relaxed camaraderie between the players.
I bought my copy of Dizzy Gillespie's Big 4 from a used record store in early 1990, when I was just getting into jazz. It just so happened that Dizzy was coming to town soon for a concert. So, I bought tickets and proceeded to spend the two weeks leading up to his performance devouring the album in the hope that Diz would play something off the album in his concert. He did, his bop classic "Birk's Works." The deceptively quiet beat that Brown and Roker lay down only serve to stir up fiery solos from Pass and Gillespie who, as on most of the tracks here, offers up two solos, one with a mute in his bell, and a second solo with his full horn sound.
When I saw him in concert, the then 72 year-old Gillespie deferred to his younger sidemen to handle the more challenging solos. However, on Dizzy Gillespie's Big 4, his playing is superb and he is in command of the material.
His "Tanga" (renamed "Frelimo" on the CD version) opens up the album in style. It has a laid-back blues feel to it, but after the first couple of bars, Pass fills in with some clipped licks, Brown plucks a few choice chords, Roker hits the skins with a snappy military-march drum solo, and Gillespie growls with his trumpet. It turns out to be a pretty funky opening eight minutes and recalls Gillespie's interest in Afro-Cuban sounds.
"Be Bop (Dizzy's Fingers)," another original, is taken at a full gallop. The fellas must have had fun running through this number.
... the musicians play off each other well and do a great job of supporting Gillespie. A big 4, indeed.
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