April 20, 2024

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CD review: Dexter Gordon Quartet – Vin Et Roses: Paris’73 – 2024: Video, CD cover

This previously unreleased live recording captures Dexter Gordon (1923–1990) in concert with perhaps his finest, and most consistent, rhythm section.

Pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath—the house band at Jazzhus in Copenhagen, where Gordon lived and played regularly for 14 years during the 1960s and ’70s—joined the towering tenor saxophonist for this performance at Tokyo’s Yubin Chokin Hall on Oct. 1, 1975. The well-seasoned group gets right down to business, kicking off the set with “Fried Bananas,” a signature Gordon original that was first recorded on his 1969 album More Power! The rest of the set includes two standards—“Days Of Wine And Roses” and “Misty”—plus the show closer, Billy Eckstine’s innuendo-rich “Jelly, Jelly,” the lyric of which Gordon sings, to the audience’s delight.

For some reason, Dexter Gordon doesn’t immediately leap to my mind when I think of A-list bop saxmen. He should. Our Man in Paris is all the evidence you need.

Gordon made a bunch of terrific records for Blue Note from 1961 to 1964. Some say Go! from 1962, with pianist Sonny Clark, is the best of the bunch, and I can’t really argue with that. But Our Man in Paris is every bit its equal, based largely on the strength of three songs and the presence of seminal bebop pianist Bud Powell.

As the title implies, Our Man in Paris was recorded in the City of Lights. It’s a simple bop quartet with Gordon on sax, Powell on piano, American Kenny Clarke on drums and Frenchman Pierre Michelot on bass. It’s a simple lineup, but powerful.

The album kicks off with a wild rendition of the Charlie Parker classic “Scrapple From the Apple.” Gordon is on fire, and Powell is sublime. This is no mere imitation. It’s full of original ideas and endless energy, using the Parker tune as a jumping-off point for inspired solos.

Next up is another jazz chestnut, “Willow Weep for Me.” It’s been recorded a million times by a million artists, and my favorite version is still Art Tatum on solo piano. But the Gordon-Powell version is a close second, full of smoky noir flavor and, again, clever soloing that makes this more than a mere blues.

A couple more standards follow: “Broadway,” which sounds suspiciously like Fats Waller’s “Lounging at the Waldorf,” and the ballad “Stairway to the Stars.”

And then the highlight of the CD, and the closer of the original LP, a fantastic, crazy, original take on Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia,” perhaps my all-time favorite jazz composition. Again, it’s a tune that’s been covered by hundreds of jazz musicians—definitively by both Diz himself and Charlie Parker in the 1940s. This is a more modern interpretation, and Gordon is positively exuberant, blowing line after line after line of original ideas, followed by Powell with some nice noodling on the keyboard.

The CD adds two more cuts to the LP, neither essential: a pleasant mid-tempo version of “Our Love is Here to Stay” and a sax-less take of “Like Someone in Love,” featuring Bud Powell sounding very un-Powell-like. No clever bop-istries here, just nice, unremarkable melodies.

Funny thing about Our Man in Paris. I’ve owned the record (and now the CD) for decades, but it’s not one I go to often. And yet once I do play the album, I wind up listening to it over and over. If it’s not in your collection, it should be. Gordon is one of the all-time best boppers, and Paris is arguably his best recording.

The tunes all run nice and long, thanks to a plenitude of meaty, extended improvisations from all onboard. Gordon is in top form, quote-happy as ever, peppering his swaggering hard-bop solos with well-placed bits of humor, huge dollops of blues and forever-clever turns of phrase. Pedersen’s breathtaking solo on “Days Of Wine And Roses” is a highlight, as is Drew’s flourishing ride on “Misty.” Bonus tracks on the album include a live 1973 performance of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning,” recorded in Holland with Norwegian Espen Rud on drums, and a live version of the standard “Old Folks” from a 1977 concert in New Haven, Connecticut, with Gordon’s “homecoming” band of pianist Ronnie Mathews, bassist Stafford James and drummer Louis Hayes. The sound quality of these live recordings can be spotty at times, but the brilliant content of the performances makes the entire album—available on CD and vinyl—a surprise treat for Gordon fans.

Am I alone in thinking there’s been a positive critical consensus when it comes to assessing “new” sets of material from some of the major figures in the music? I ask because if indeed this is the case there’s surely a risk of some pretty average music-making being elevated to a status it hardly justifies.

The musing in that opening paragraph came on while I was listening to this set, which after repeated listenings sounds like just another gig of a type that was obviously more common when giants walked this earth. So while Gordon’s always commanding tone is present and correct on the lengthy Wave the same can’t be said for his ideas. He coasts unremarkably in places, but when he doesn’t we get to hear a man going about his musical business with commitment and love.

1. Fried Bananas 10:59
2. Days Of Wine And Roses 9:53
3. Didn’t We 8:18
4. Some Other Blues 10:29
5. Jelly Jelly 12:17

Альбом «Vin Et Roses (Live)» — Dexter Gordon & Dexter Gordon Quartet —  Apple Music

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