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Extended Analysis

Dexter Gordon: The Complete Prestige Sessions

By Published: October 4, 2004
Dexter Gordon
The Complete Prestige Sessions

In company with Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane Dexter Gordon was recognized as one of the tenor sax giants of his era. (I'd say Stan Getz made as many classic records as the others, but he was "just" a great player who didn't comparably influence other musicians.) The Complete Prestige Sessions focuses on Gordon's late '60s-early '70s music when he lived in Copenhagen but regularly returned to the U.S. to record. Also from earlier in his career there is one extended 1950 cut with Wardell Gray (without a "tenor battle") and a 1960 West Coast sextet session when he was coming out of legal and "health" problems. His penetrating sound and ability to spontaneously compose one interesting line after another were already in place. Actually he had it together by the mid 40's notably on a record with Bud Powell.

Unlike Coltrane and Rollins Gordon did not evolve much after his formative years. That he improved, expanded, and fine tuned his playing as well as became less connected to Lester Young's rhythmic feel (closer to Charlie Parker) can be heard by comparing his soloing on the earlier recordings with the later ones. A less overt form of Coltrane's scale running did come into Gordon's playing in the late '60s and can be heard in small doses on "The Blues Walk" (alternate), "Wee Dot," "Star Eyes," and a few other blues or blues-derived cuts. Surprisingly he sticks to a more straight-ahead feel (without the scales) on "Blues A La Swiss," a tune credited to Gordon but which is actually Coltrane's "Some Other Blues." Another connection: Gordon borrows Coltrane's classic arrangement on the tenor sax test piece "Body and Soul." (Incidentally Gordon who came up before Coltrane inspired Coltrane's early sound and style.) Gordon did write music, but his tunes are mostly just sketches that act as starting points. "Fried Bananas" ("It Could Happen to You") is occasionally played by others, and "Evergreenish" ("It's You or No One") isn't bad, but he was completely a player at heart-everything else was incidental.

Gordon did not make many bad records, and there is a consistently high level of playing over the eleven CDs here. His ballad playing is especially focused, well-paced, and deeply felt. During some of the Gordon performances I attended ('70s and '80s) he would recite a ballad's lyrics before playing it to give the audience a hint of his subjective message. He seemed to consider himself vocalist as saxophonist, an attitude he picked up from older players. My favorite bands are the quartets where he doesn't do a thing but solo, but there is much to recommend in all the different settings. Variety is definitely a plus as is the inclusion of several alternate takes, most of which are as good as the masters. The sound is first rate.

A lifelong maverick, Gordon was devoted to music and virtually always ready to play. More than with other horns he enjoyed the company of tenor players, and memorable sessions with Booker Ervin, James Moody, and Gene Ammons are included. He occasionally indulges in "cutting contest" gimmicks, but most of the two-tenor music is challenging, musical blowing by both participants—"European tenor" as Gordon proudly called it. Trumpet heavyweights Freddie Hubbard and Thad Jones join him on some sessions and contribute valuable solos. There are some horn exchanges, but he does not take full advantage of playing off them as much as with the tenor players. Gordon did not have a regular American rhythm section until later, but a glance at the personnel listing tells you he hired the best accompanists of the time. He seemed to extend himself more with Tommy Flanagan and bebop master Barry Harris while Wynton Kelly, Hank Jones, and Bobby Timmons tempted his earthier side.

Track listing: Move/Home Run/Dolo/Lovely Lisa/Affair in Havana/Jodi/Field Day/ Setting the Pace/Dexter's Deck/Montmartre/Lady Bird/Sticky Wicket/Montmartre (alternate take)/Lady Bird (alternate take)/Sticky Wicket (alternate take)/Those Were the Days/Stanley the Steamer/The Rainbow People/Boston Bernie/Meditation (Meditacao)/Fried Bananas/Dinner For One Please, James/ Stanley the Steamer (alternate take)/The Rainbow People (alternate take)/Boston Bernie (alternate take)/ Fried Bananas (alternate take)/Broadway/Boston Bernie/In A Sentimental Mood/Blues Up and Down/ Rhythm-a-ning/Misty/Love For Sale/Fried Bananas/Sophisticated Lady/Rhythm-a-ning/Body and Soul/ Blue Monk/The Panther (two versions)/Body and Soul/Valse Robin/Mrs. Miniver/The Christmas Song/ Blues Walk/Valse Robin (alternate take)/Mrs. Miniver (alternate take)/Blues Walk (alternate take)/Polka Dots and Moonbeams/Wee Dot/The Happy Blues/Lonesome Lover Blues (alternate take)/Medley: Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)/I Can't Get Started /My Funny Valentine/Misty/The Chase/Lonesome Lover Blues/Evergreenish/Rhythm-a-ning/For Sentimental Reasons (I Love You)/Star Eyes/The Jumpin' Blues/ Evergreenish (alternate take)/Rhythm-a-ning (alternate take)/For Sentimental Reasons (alternate take)/ Star Eyes (alternate take)/The Jumpin' Blues (alternate take)/Milestones/Scared to Be Alone/The Group/ Days of Wine and Roses/We See/Milestones (alternate take)/Scared to Be Alone (alternate take)/The Group (alternate take)/Ca' Purange (Jungle Soul)/Tangerine/The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face/What It Was/Airegin/Oh! Karen/Airegin (alternate take)August Blues/Gingerbread Boy/Blues A la Suisse/Some Other Spring/Secret Love/Tivoli/Treux Bleu.

Personnel: Dexter Gordon (ts) Clark Terry (tp) Sonny Criss (as) Wardell Gray (ts) Jimmy Bunn (p) Billy Hadnott (b) Chuck Thompson (d) Martin Banks (tp) Richard Boone (tb) Dolo Coker (p) Charles Green (b) Larance Marable (d) Booker Ervin (ts) Jaki Byard (p) Reggie Workman (b) Alan Dawson (d) James Moody (ts) Barry Harris (p) Buster Williams (b) Albert "Tootie" Heath (d) Bobby Timmons (p) Victor Gaskin (b) Percy Brice (d) Junior Mance (p) Martin Rivera (b) Oliver Jackson (d) Tommy Flanagan (p) Larry Ridley (b) Alan Dawson (d) Gene Ammons (ts) John Young (p) Cleveland Eaton (b) Steve McCall (d) Jodie Christian (p) Rufus Reid (b) Wilbur Campbell (d) Vi Redd (vcl) Wynton Kelly (p) Sam Jones (b) Roy Brooks (d) Freddie Hubbard (tp) Cedar Walton (p) Buster Williams (b) Billy Higgins (d) Thad Jones (tp,flhrn) Hank Jones (p) Stanley Clarke (b) Louis Hayes (d) Hampton Hawes (p,el-p) Bob Cranshaw (b) Kenny Clarke (d) Cannonball Adderley (as) Nat Adderley (cnt) Kenneth Nash (cga).

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