Xanadu In Africa / Night Flight From Dakar
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Xanadu in Africa / Night Flight to Dakar is a 2-CD set that captures a late-70s tour of West Africa that included Al Cohn, Billy Mitchell, Frank Butler, Leroy Vinnegar, and Dolo Coker. The recording all-stars of Xanadu shone brightly on the east and west coasts of their homeland, sparkled at the Montreux Festival in Switzerland, and were brilliant on a tour of Japan. But their most luminous and historic performances occurred during this trailblazing sortie through Senegal.
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The two Senegal dates here, meanwhile, were recorded just five days apart yet have surprisingly different flavours. "Xanadu in Africa" captures this group of old pros at the Club Med in Dakar, turning in a quality set of mostly-standards. It is beautifully recorded and feels similar in many ways to the two-tenor groups Cohn used to lead with Zoot Sims, although Billy Mitchell has a more angular approach than Sims. He and Cohn engage in some nice interplay, but it is things like the group's easy lopes through the ballads "I Surrender Dear" and "Easy Living" (features for Cohn and Mitchell, repectively) that give the recording its relaxed vibe.
The album "Night Flight to Dakar" shows the group five days later, feeling a bit more comfortable together and taking more risks to achieve a more challenging and energised post-bop flavour in a concert in front of VIPs at the National Theatre in Senegal. It is an exciting performance that suffers only from the rather hollow ambience of the concert hall. Pianist Coker gets a nice extended feature on "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying", while the great Frank Butler takes one of his famous solos on "Sweet Senegalese Brown", an original based on chord changes of obvious provenance.
This lovingly remastered 2-CD set should be viewed as an essential purchase by fans of the 1970s bop revival or of any of the guys in this group. Let's hope more is on the way from the Xanadu vaults.