The lengthy title track on this CD easily overshadows the rest of the program for it is one of the most exciting versions ever recorded of Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia." Trumpeter Lee Morgan (then only in his early 20s), tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Bobby Timmons and bassist Jymie Merritt formed one of the strongest of the many versions of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and are actually in fine form during the remainder of the satisfying (if anticlimatic) set.
The CD augments the LP by adding a version of "When Your Lover Has Gone" and an alternate take of "Sincerely Diana" to the original program.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
========= from the cover ==========
There is something infinitely mysterious about a title which refers to a particular night or a special place. It pricks the imagination and arouses the curiosity in one. What was so special about that time and place? What happened to inspire a man to memorialize the event in music?
This question has sparked the fantasy of jazz listeners for over a decade whenever the swift, exotic A Night in Tunisia has been played.
The small North African French protectorate of Tunisia is located on the Mediterranean. The country is a paradox of climate and vegetation. Mountainous, majestic and terrifying in the north, two-fifths of the land extends into dry, flat tableland running to the great Sahara Desert.
Thousands of miles away in America, Dizzy Gillespie found inspiration to write a tune which is in the process of becoming a jazz standard. The actual beginning and moment of truth when Tunisia was spawned is still cloaked in fogginess and contradictions. Art Blakey remembers, "Dizzy wrote this tune while we were all in Billy Eckstine's big band. That was a terrific band. I guess Dizzy just thought of eastern things and the excitement of the Orient." Gillespie himself remembers no specific instant when the tune occurred to him.
"It was long before the Eckstine band, I believe. I was on a record date with Maxine Sullivan, and I was in the studio fooling around with some chords when this theme kept popping up. It stuck in my mind and I played around with it until I got it together. When it was finished it just reminded me of what a night in Tunisia would be like." Gillespie denied that there is any further significance, then he smiled slyly and winked.
Whatever the circumstances, Tunisia has been emotionally, artistically and commercially profitable for Blakey. No matter how sophisticated the audience or how disorderly the crowd, this arrangement has continually been the show topper, the tune which commanded attention and respect and drew tumultuous response across the country.
"And the wonderful thing about it is that we never play it the exact way twice." Blakey says, "it's just that the tune is so appealing and we enjoy playing it and people enjoy hearing it. We may play it every night for five years but no two times will be alike The guys in the band are wonderfully creative and they play the way they Feel on a particular night."
The musicians in the band use this repetition as well as each individual set to make actual conceptual alterations and corrections in their playing.
"Art always tells us that every time we go up on that stand, God is giving us another chance to clean up the mess we might have made the last time." This was Wayne's remark, but less than twenty-four hours latei, it was Bobby Timmons who repeated the expression.
Blakey is one of the rare leaders who has been a musical as well as commercial success in spite of the fact that frequently there are personnel changes. Blakey accepts, even encourages the acceptance of his unit as a training ground for future jazz leaders. He believes that the men in his group must have room for expression and a chance to grow. "I always try to develop band leaders in my group, I always have done this," Blakey asserts. "Why should I try to keep the fellows with me? Let them grow and get out and form more good jazz groups. Besides, there are other young players waiting for their big chance to be heard."
This album is a prime example of Blakey's expressed desire to showcase his young talent.
Not only is there extended solo room for the musicians; further, all but the title tune were written and arranged by the talented junior jazz citizens in his group.
A Night in Tunisia as recorded here remains the spectacular fiery poly-rhythmic stimulant that it is when performed live in night clubs and on concert stages. The mood is set as Shorter leaps in to render a brilliant rapid-fire solo. Morgan's airy solo sparkles to the foreground. Note his climactic building and multinoted technique. Bobby Timmons feeds back drive and fire from the keyboard along with the Blakey sizzling cymbals and sputtering drums. Merritt here, as throughout the album, is the capable anchor man.
Sincerely Diana is a deceptively unadorned tune with hidden intricacies contributed by Wayne Shorter. The burning preoccupation for Shorter is chordal and chorus structure, he says. He wants to build tunes of uncommon or unusual metric qualities. He wants to go beyond the typical patterns. Sincerely Dianais, Shorter believes, a beginning. As for the title, Wayne says. "It is dedicated to Art's wife, Diana. There was another tune, D's Dilemma written for her, so one day I told her I would write one for her also. She always seems to be such a sincere person, so I called the tune, Sincerely Diana."
The young "soul" giant who has composed several of the most popular and most recorded soul tunes has turned in another original chart. Bobby Timmons' So Tired is a basic blues tune of the type most usually associated with the Timmons-Blakey alliance.
Aside from drawing encouraging reviews from leading critics for his technical prowess and incisive wit with his trumpet, Lee Morgan is beginning to draw attention to his writing skill. He contributes the final two tunes on this date. Unlike many musicians who pull their titles out of the air. usually a Morgan chart has been specifically designed around an existing idea.
Yama is the Japanese word for mountain. Further, it is the beginning of the maidan name of Lee's pixie Japanese wife - Yamamato. Yama is a gently swaying blues tinged arrangement which features the piano and the two horns predominantly. There is some delightful Bobby Timmons; Morgan's solo here is primarily vertical and always penetrating. There is an intriguing Shorter revealed here whose shading is at times almost hair raising. Kozo's Wahz again finds Lee playing tribute to his wife's heritage. Loosely translated, kozo is a Japanese word roughly equivalent to our "kid." It is the name which the Morgans have given to their pet poodle. The tune is an infectious up tempo arrangement. Blakey dips in and out of the foreground and displays his magnificent skill as soloist and rhythm pacer. This is an interesting and appropriate album for this group. The Jazz Messengers have gathered inspiration and thoughts from distant corners of the world and are delivering the dispatch in America's own method of artistic communication - Jazz.
"Oh. we have so much to do," Blakey laments, "Africa is so far ahead of us in rhythms and we are so far ahead of them in harmony. If we can just hurry the wedding of African rhythms and our harmonies, we would really be able to startle the world."
A worthy ambition to which this album is dedicated. Tucked snugly within this album cover, fragments of those two and other cultures come excitingly closer. Perhaps you will find your own personal musical fulfillment in this Night in Tunisia.
- Barbara J. Gardner