Dear Diz doesn’t aim for the relentlessly daring intellect of Dizzy Gillespie’s small-band bebop sides, so much as the boisterous amiability associated with his globetrotting latter-day period — fitting since that’s when he made Arturo Sandoval’s acquaintance.
In keeping, the results don’t break any new ground for those familiar with Gillespie’s more celebrated mid-century sides — disappointing, perhaps, considering the subject matter, Sandoval’s pedigree and an all-star group of accompanists including vibraphonist Gary Burton, saxophonist Bob Mintzer, organist Joey DeFrancesco, clarinetist Eddie Daniels. Still, Dear Diz: Every Day I Think of You (set for release on May 8, 2012 from Concord Jazz) is not without its smaller, and deeply heartfelt rewards.
Gillespie first encountered Sandoval during a concert appearance in the younger trumpeter’s native Cuba in 1977. Thirteen years later, while on a State Department-arranged tour with Gillespie, Sandoval defected to the United States. He became a naturalized citizen in 1999, but by then his mentor had been gone six years.
The loss has clearly resonated with Sandoval: He uses Dear Diz less as a platform for reinterpretation than as a loving tribute to Gillespie, for whom Sandoval owes so much, both professionally and personally. There are competently arranged and competently presented takes on “Be Bop,” “Salt Peanuts,” “Birk’s Works,” “Con Alma,” “Tin Tin Deo” and, of course, “Night in Tunisia” — though nothing more, unfortunately.
Yet, the album, for all of the chances it doesn’t take, still has a memorable emotional resonance. What Sandoval doesn’t portray here in musical vision, he more than makes up for in zesty ebullience. That, as much as anything, recalls Gillespie — since there are few, if any, who can echo that bullfrog-cheeked sense of scintillating fire and seam-bursting joy like his former protege.
Sandoval may not mimic Gillespie’s initial sense of frisky creativity, but his approach — by turns flirtatiously sly and then brightly impish — so strongly recall Dizzy’s tone and feel that this project can’t help but charm.