Recorded at CBS studios on May 23 1963
Tenor-saxophonist Dexter Gordon, who had recently moved to Europe, is featured on this set with the all-star rhythm section sometimes called "the Three Bosses": pianist Bud Powell, bassist Pierre Michelot and drummer Kenny Clarke. The repertoire is strictly bop standards and Powell in particular is in excellent form. Gordon sounds fine too on such songs as "Scrapple from The Apple," "Stairway to the Stars" and "A Night in Tunisia."
All Music Guide
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The renascence of Dexter Gordon has been one of the most sanguine events in recent jazz history. After a brilliant early career with Lionel Hampton, the Billy Eckstine big band and Charlie Parker, the tall, forty-year old Californian slid into limbo during most of the 1950's. It was known that he was in California, but he had ceased to be a presence on the jazz scene. Musicians remembered him - as is indicated by his influence on the evolving styles in those years of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane - but most of the jazz public and the critics had either forgotten Gordon or assumed that his career had evaporated. As British critic Daniel Halperin noted when the resurgent Dexter played London in 1962, the second career of Gordon "has been an unusual transformation because usually, on the jazz scene, when they fade away they hardly ever come back. And there was a time when ... Dexter Gordon was definitely near vanishing point."
The road back started in 1960 when Dexter Gordon wrote the music for and performed in the west coast edition of Jack Gelber's The Connection. The next year, Alfred Don of Blue Note invited Dexter to return to New York for recordings. The albums since - Doin All Right (Blue Note 4077), Dexter Catting (Blue Note 4083), Go! (Blue Note 4112) - have firmly re-established Gordon as a major voice in jazz.
Dexter is now based in Paris, where this album was recorded in May, 1963. Shortly after the session was made. Dexter was asked by a reporter for the French monthly. Jazz, whether he thought he was playing better today than at previous stages in his career. "Certainly," Dexter answered. "I'm much more lucid and have a stronger sense of equilibrium. My musical conception is much surer. I know where I'm going now. I am just as spontaneous as I used to be, but I know much more about music. I've traveled a long road in jazz ... I can't regain the time I've lost, but I've learned from the experience and it's not im possible to shape a future which will have profited from the time that was lost."
Dexter was once asked, "What would you like most to see printed behind your name?" His answer was: "I'd like to see something about the fact that I'm constantly searching for ways to improve." The persistence of that search has been evident in all of his recent Blue Note recordings, including this one. Alan Beckett, a critic for the British Jazz Journal, observed during a Gordon stay in London in 1962: "As one of the first musicians to make constructive adaptations of Parker's harmonic developments to the tenor saxophone, and as one of the greatest influences upon many of the most productive musicians in contemporary jazz, his historical importance is very great. But lie is not only a link, and although his recent records indicate that he lias borrowed to some extent from his own disciples, his playing over here shows him to be a mature and consolidated stylist, from whose work great satisfaction can be derived."
In this Paris album, Dexter's colleagues have a long history as a unit in that city. Kenny Clarke, the key initial shaper of modern jazz drumming, has been an expatriate in Paris since 1956. Bud Powell has lived there since 1959. Pierre Michelot is one of the most respected bassists in Europe, and he has worked and recorded with a wide range of visiting American jazzmen - among them, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. In 1959, Clarke, Powell and Michelot formed a trio, the Three Bosses, which worked together for a long time. This, therefore, is not a date with a pick-up rhythm section. Dexter is heard here in the context of a rhythm team which long ago learned to fuse each of its elements into a flowing unified whole.
From the start of Scrapple From The Apple, the sheer strength, the virility of Gordon's horn is unquenchably evident. His tone is assertive but warm; his beat is enveloping; and his conception indicates, as French writer Demetre Ioakimidis notes, that "Gordon has always emphasized swing and melodic development" in his playing. Now, however, there is increased, irrepressible confidence and more venturesome and diversified use of pitch and texture as expressive devices. Furthermore, he sets up and sustains a momentum in a performance such as Scrapple From The Apple that is fiercely, contagiously exciting. There are no hesitations, no skating on technical runs while ideas are being regrouped. Dexter plays as if he could hardly contain all he wants to say. Beneath the marked power, there is also the surge of even more latent force. But Powell's solo is fluent and well-organized, confirming a recent report by "Cannonball" Adderley that Bud, when he is stimulated by his musical surroundings, remains an absorbing pianist.
Willow Weep For Me illustrates what Alan Beckett has called Gordon's "gruff lyricism." In this performance, moreover, that lyricism is unusually incisive. This could be termed a dramatic reading of the ballad. There is no flaccidity in Gordon's ballad work. It contains as much surging strength as do his up tempo swingers, but the strength is disciplined into spare, penetratingly lucid patterns. The overall shape of Gordon's solo is remarkably cohesive, a further indication that while Gordon remains as spontaneous as ever, the increased emotional maturity and musical acumen of the added years have channeled that spontaneity into more memorable and more substantial shapes. There is also much more of a speech-like quality to his phrasing. This is not simply an exercise in technical fluency. Dexter's interpretation of Willow Weep For Me is in the vintage jazz tradition of telling a striking, personal story. The same is true of Bud Powell's statement which is also spare and tensile. Michelot has matured from his earlier recordings, and his solo in Willow Weep For Me is deep-toned, cleanly executed and imaginative.
Broadway, once a vehicle for Lester Young (the strongest early influence on Gordon's playing) is an intriguing, concise history of one major trend in jazz tenor playing. There are traces of Lester as well as signs of the later Gordon style which affected Rollins and Coltrane. In addition, annealing all these cross-influences, is the present Gordon who has absorbed these elements, including what he has chosen to adapt from his disciples, into a powerfully individualistic way of expression. Again, as in Scrapple From The Apple, there is the overwhelming presence of the man - the climate of crackling emotional excitement which never lets up but rather increases in intensity. Note too, in some of the exclamatory uses of pitch, how Gordon has found his own way into at least part of the terrain of the current jazz avant-garde. Throughout the track and the album, spurring the soloists and keeping the time crisply alive, is the superbly lithe drumming of Kenny Clarke. As for Bud, in addition to his own ebullient solo, listen to the echo of Count Basie he brings in at the close.
Stairway To The Stars is another aspect of Gordon's balladry. At first gentler and more introspective than Willow Weep For Me, the performance reveals the warmth and depth of tone Gordon can draw from the horn. And yet, the spine of the interpretation remains steel-like. It is this quality - a firm sense of direction and what I referred to before as sheer strength of emotion - which most instantly identifies anything Gordon does. And as is also characteristic, there is the sure, judicious choice of notes. The lesson of economy was one of the most valuable Gordon learned from Lester Young, and it is a lesson to which he has returned during his current renascence. Bud Powell's solo is almost song-like in its particular quality of lyricism and discloses an especially serene side of Powell's current work.
The final A Night In Tunisia is a summation of the renewed Dexter Gordon - the soaring assurance, the delight in improvising, the unflagging resourcefulness and the bursting ardor of his attack. Gordon has said that he is happier now than he has ever been before, and those high spirits are pervasively clear in this album. It is a happiness, however, which is not likely to lead to coasting. At the core of Dexter's commitment to music is a restless desire to learn and to express more of what he feels. As he told one British writer after having scored a notable triumph in London, "No, I'm not wholly satisfied at the moment; my career is just beginning."