Dizzy Gillespie Afro-Cuban Experience review – doesn't quite match legend's pulse-quickening racket

Ronnie Scott's, London
This Latin-jazz band feature sound best when they stray from pure Cubop

The aim of this legacy outfit is to explore the groundbreaking "Cubop" music that emerged from the meeting between US bebop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and the Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo. The band is led by John Lee, who played bass in all of Gillespie's bands from 1984 until the trumpeter's death in 1993, and has somehow managed to nab the "Dizzy Gillespie" name as a franchise (replete with a trademark symbol). Sadly, the band rarely get anywhere near the pulse-quickening, polyrhythmic racket that Gillespie pioneered.

At their best, Latin-jazz bands roar off the line, throbbing and gurgling like Formula One engines. This one splutters along like a hatchback that never quite gets out of second gear. Where the percussion should fizz and pop and burble excitedly, here it sounds sluggish. The band's timbalero, Mario Grillo (AKA Machito Jr), might be the son of Afro-Cuban music's most famously flamboyant bandleaders, but he hits his instrument like a bored prep schoolmaster reluctantly administering corporal punishment.

Trumpeter Freddie Hendrix reaches all the Dizzy high notes and can also sound wonderfully warm and ruminative in the lower register. Generally, the band sound much better when they stray from pure Cubop. Israeli guitarist Yotam Silberstein solos impressively, playing muted phrases, Moorish explorations and supercharged wah-wah riffs. Kit drummer Tommy Campbell has a fine line in dadaist drum solos – using space creatively, waggishly improvising over squeaky toys. And Brazilian pianist Abelita Mateus sounds magnificent singing and playing samba and bossa nova standards by the likes of João Bosco, Tom Jobim and Luiz Bonfá.

It's only right at the end of the gig that the band really get into an Afro-Cuban groove with a noisy, rambunctious reading of Freddie Hubbard's Take It to the Ozone. For the first time, you get a feel for how thrilling Gillespie's Cubop can be.


John Lewis

The GuardianTramp

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