Recorded September 13, 1975.
What is different about this set (recorded in a particularly busy year for Dexter Gordon) is that the veteran tenor is joined by a trio (guitarist Philip Catherine, bassist Niels Pedersen and drummer Billy Higgins) that does not include a pianist. Otherwise, the music is at the same high quality level and in the same modern bop genre as one would expect. In addition to one of his originals and Slide Hampton's "Yesterday's Mood," Gordon stretches out on some standards, making a classic statement on the ballad "When Sunny Gets Blue." All of his SteepleChase albums (particularly those from the 1975-76 period) are well worth acquiring.
All Music Guide
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As though guided by some recondite hand, the career of Dexter Keith Gordon seems always to have flowered most vividly during the middle years of any decade. In the fermenting 'Fourties, recordings for Guild, Savoy and Dial over a 34-month period sealed the creation of a seminal Bebop tenor style. Bolstered by magnetic personal appearances, it was to inform the work of saxophonists as diverse as Allen Eager, Stan Getz, Jimmy Heath, Clifford Jordan and Jackie McLean, as well as the twin fountainheads of post-Bop tenor, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, as the music further evolved into the 'Fifties.
In the decade, however, Gordon's own career suffered the twin vicissitudes of fashion and personal problems. It was spent largely in obscurity or in institutions - the latter reflecting less upon the individual than upon the authorities' ineffectual methods of dealing with what had become a scourge in the music. A "Just Jazz" concert, and a recording date for the obscure Swingtime label, both in 1952, together with three recording dates in 1955- for Bethlehem and Dootone - these were the sum of a decade's endeavours. It is perhaps more by accident, then, that the middle years proved to be the more fruitful.
It was in 1960 that it became possible for something positive to be salvaged from the negative forces that had disrupted his career He was called upon to participate in the West Coast production of Jack Gelber's play about heroin addiction, -The Connection. Not only did Gordon form a quartet to play the onstage music - he also had an important speaking part. Through the offices of the late Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, he recorded for the Riverside subsidiary, Jazzland, an album which perhaps had less value musically than it did in terms of publicity. For it led to the famous Blue Note contract and, as the decade progressed into the middle years, so this big friendly bear of a style grew again in authority, maturity and clarity of purpose. And, if it appeared to reflect the newer styles of Coltrane and Rollins, then as Ira Gitler remarked, this was only - like receiving interest on something he had banked a long time before"
Unfortunately, apart from recordings, Dexter's appearances at the music's centre of gravity - New York - were limited, first by parole terms, then by an inability to prise a cabaret card from the city's authorities - a noxious system now happily ended. This almost certainly provoked Dexter's decision to travel to Europe, where, as Steeple Chase archives are beginning to show, such famous achievements as the "Go!" and "A Swingin' Affair" albums were to be surpassed in appearances at Copenhagen's famous Montmartre Jazzhus during the decade's middle years (Check out "Cheese Cake", SCC-6008).
Although he remained in the Valby district of Copenhagen for fourteen years, the later 'Sixties saw several visits to New York, where he checked out the sartorial scene while recording companies (Blues Note, then Prestige) checked out Dexter's remarkably consistent improvisational abilities. But the latter 'Sixties, and early 'Seventies for that matter, were not good years for too many musicians whose styles were not to be compromised by creeping commercialism. In Dexter's case, the Stateside visits grew fewer and, after 1970, the recordings tended to be made, not in New York, but in The Hague, Paris. Munich, Montreux and Copenhagen.
It is not entirely coincidental that the means to reasset the Tall Man's creative powers should evolve in Copenhagen in the early 'Seventies, since SteepieChase Records were born to assuage the frustration of Gordon devotee, Jackie McLean (SCS-1001) Since then, the label has championed the cause of a host of musicians who had either slipped the collective memory or were unknown. And , in doing so, it has succeeded in scratching the itchy withdrawal symptoms of enthusiasts who found their music hard to come by in its purest forms.
The earliest discs involving Dexter were recorded under McLean's name at the Montmartre in 1973 (SCCD-31006, SCCD-31020) and. as the middle years unfolded, Dexter signed exclusively with the label, an arrangement that was to last until his return to America in 1976. The eight LPs that have emerged so far include some of his best-ever work - four of them, together with this, the ninth from the SteepleChase era, being produced during a 22-day period of inspired creativity. It began with an appearance at the 1975 Zurich Festival (SCCDD-31050, 31090. 31110), and ended the day after the present session with the date that produced "Bouncin' With Dex" (SCS-1060).
Like a diner assiduously saving the best morsels for a later date, SteepleChase have harboured the enclosed session for clise on five years. Yet, without the risk of hyperbole, I think it is fair to describe this as among Dexter's finest recordings.
An important contributory factor is that this is the first time Gordon has ever recorded with a guitar as a front-line partner. Together with the absence of a piano, this lends the proceedings an entirely fresh atmosphere and texture. Moreover, this is also among Philip Catherine's most fruitful sessions: indeed, he rates his solo on Invitation as the best he has ever recorded. But, more of that later.
The part played by Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen is also important. By the time the musicians assembled in the Rosenberg Studio in Copenhagen, NH0P had been playing with Dexter for about a dozen years, but he is far too astute a bassist to allow familiarity to dull the edge of a potent musical relationship. His response to Gordon's playing is little less than telepathic here, whether contracting the tenor's lines (arpeggios behind sustained notes; sustained notes behind Dexter's occasional flurries) or underlining them with seemingly casually-played rhythms.
And then, of course, there is Billy Higgins - Dexter's favourite drummer - equally at home in Bebop or "free" playing milieux. Being a subtle percussionist has its drawbacks - important contributions can be overlooked, yet Billy is the best user of brushes since Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, a fact underlined by the textures he builds quietly behind all the soloists on Invitation. His work with the sticks is just as attractive, setting up joyful skips behind a Gordon quote here, or a rustling comment at the end of a phrase there. After listening to his performance on this album, there can be no doubt why Dexter has struck up such a rapport with the little man of such art.
The proceedings open with an initially mournful Freddie Freeloader, the Miles Davis distillation of the twelve-bar form that quickly establishes Gordon's immense talents as a blues player. Despite popular myth, the blues are a complex emotional form, and Dexter's gradual assertion of a less melancholy mood is entirely in keeping. The trotting tempo allows a feeling of relaxation and controlled intensity to pervade his leathery lyricism. Note the varied emphasis of Catherine's comping - sometimes organ-like, sometimes more clipped, always spacious. His own sole is a bounding affair, the phrases falling over themselves as he builds cloudy melodies.
When Sunny Gets Blue is a ballad performance to overshadow all bu the very best. The first sign on Dexter's mastery over his craft is his choice of tempo - a loging one that suits the shape and symmetry of the theme's sinuous melody better than any I have heard. The upper reaches of the tenor, which wailed pungently on the previous blues, here sing with an infectious buoyancy. Catherine, for his part, deploys his slightly sour tone effectively to contrast Dexter's undulating statement.
Invitation is a bossa-tinged rendition of no lesser stature, more fluently lyrical even than his celebrated Wave of three weeks earlier. It is acoustic and - by means of over-dubbing - he was able to play over an attactive rhythm he himself laid down. His soft lyricism is contrasted by a bustling solo from Pedersen that sees the bassist at his melodic best.
Higgins announces the declamatory Winther's Calling with a riff-like figure which is almost a counter-melody to the blues theme itself. It echoes some of Gordon's more commanding SteepleChase canters - like Antabus, for example (SCS-1025). Catherine gets first bite, with a clamorous mixture of chordal and arpeggiated playing which generates powerful excitement. Gordon's rakish solo is a definitive example of his care with tempo - long curling lines sandwich bent notes, smears, staccato motifs and rhythmic devices which infuse it with an air of perpetual motion.
Polka Dots And Moonbeams, the slowest cut here, finds Dexter burrowing into the skin of the melody as though dipping into rich claret. His phrasing glides emulsively through the poignant song, umbrous. lingering phrases interconnecting through warm ripples of sound.
His timbre on the final Yesterday's Mood is a reminder of the crossbreeding with John Coltrane - at least, the 'Trane of, say, Cousin Mary. The melody executes a series of artful dance steps which are reflected throughout the solos, guided so impeccably by NH0P and Higgins. Dexter continually approaches these hurdles from different angles, taking them, not as obstacles, but as springboards from which to reflect contrasting melodic facets of the harmonic substructure.
Soon after this album was recorded, Dexter returned to the United States to much verbal killing of the fatted calf, his stock there at last as high as he had deserved through all the thirty years of his career. The European scene misses his genial, giant shadow, but through the medium of this recorded legacy, we can still remember those glorious middle years.
- Chris Sheridan (7/1-80)