Dexter Gordon: Mosaic Select 14
Mosaic Select 14
Mosaic Records (B2-70985)
While tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, long considered the bebop progenitor on his axe, recorded a number of classic sides for Blue Note in the '60s, including Go! and A Swingin' Affair , as well as seminal albums for Prestige including The Resurgence of Dexter Gordon and Setting the Pace , it's a surprising fact that he never had a steady working band until he was in his mid-50s,.in the spring of '77. Maybe it's because Gordon spent so much time travelling between Europe and the States that it was difficult to put a more lasting group together. Clearly the challenge of maintaining a permanent ensemble when booking tours of any significant duration was often difficult represented an key factor.
Regardless, when Dexter made one of his numerous homecomings to the United States in the spring of '77, he had a lengthy tour booked and no band to speak of. Relying on family and friends to make suggestions, Gordon assembled a group of younger players who may not have been particularly well-known at the time, but would ultimately prove to be the most sympathetic and elastic band of Gordon's career. Staying together for two years, this group toured enough to not only create a very specific identity, but to take Gordon's visibility, already well-established, to another level, not to mention the profiles of pianist George Cables, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Eddie Gladden.
Not, by any means, that these players were complete unknowns. Cables had fashioned a reputation for himself working with Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard and Sonny Rollins; Reid had been a mainstay in Eddie Harris' band; and Gladden was a busy session player who had worked most notably with Larry Young, Freddy Roach and Eddie Jefferson. But sometimes, they say, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the teaming of these three players behind Gordon was truly one of those circumstances of happenstance, where everyone rose above the merely competent and capable into the realm of true inspiration.
And while Cables, Reid and Gladden would record in the studio with Gordon, it was on the road, playing night after night, that they truly emerged as one of the most exciting live bebop bands of the time. In an era where fusion seemed grabbing most peoples' attention, Gordon's band presaged the emergence of the young lions in the '80s, proving to audiences that there still was a place for acoustic jazz.
Mosaic Select 14 continues the label's series of limited edition, three-disc sets, bringing together the long out-of-print Nights at the Keystone , volumes one through three, into a compact box that features reminiscences by Todd Barkan and Joe Lovano, along with original liner notes by Barkan, Michael Cuscuna and Philip Elwood. Recorded over a two-year period at various engagements in the now-legendary San Francisco club Keystone Korner, the symbiotic rapport of the group is evident from the first notes of "It's You Or No One" on Disc One, which begins with a nod to Ireland and resolves into the kind of up-tempo burner that Gordon would approach with a relaxed, behind-the-beat swagger, to the final notes of the tender "As Time Goes By" on Disc Three, where he demonstrates the acute sense of lyricism and tender romanticism that made him such a rich interpreter.
With the shortest track clocking in at over 10 minutes, and most tracks in the 14-to-20 minute range, there's plenty of space for everyone to explore the nooks and crannies of this mostly standards-laden set. Still, while the emphasis is on songs-you-know, Gordon manages to slip in a couple of his own tunes, including the often-recorded soul-jazz blues, "The Panther," and one composition by Cables. And while extended soloing is the order of the day, nobody overstays their welcome. Gordon was always a player who could squeeze the last drop out of a tune and here he has a group that follows him with unerring accuracy. The "king of quotes," Gordon is finally matched with a group that not only knows his plethora of references, but intuits them without missing a beat.
Cables is an outstanding mainstream player who has enough of an edge to take things just that slightest bit out, which stands in contrast with Gordon's mainly inside playing. Able to create just that slightest bit of tension with a carefully-chosen chord, Cables gives Gordon's improvisations new context, while displaying a deft solo approach of his own that is cerebral yet ardent.
Reid's robust tone anchors the group and yet, with broad downsliding glissandi and peppered double-stops, is far more than a mere timekeeper. Leading as much as following, his redolent swing and broader sense of harmony work, like Cables, in driving Gordon to greater modernity. Gladden's lightly swinging approach works in tandem with Reid's more restrained manner, creating a comfortable yet adventurous rhythm section that seems capable of anticipating whatever Gordon and Cables might throw at them.
Because the recordings at Keystone Korner were made at 7 ½ inches per second rather than the more conventional 15, the sound quality is somewhat less-than-perfect. Cables' piano, on occasion, seems to cut out of the left channel, and the overall mix is a little unbalanced, with Gordon on the left and the rest of the band on the right. But these imperfections are ultimately inconsequential. The performances far outweigh any sonic limitations, making Mosaic Select 14 a fine addition, not only to Mosaic's line of overlooked recordings, but to Gordon's overall body of work. These disks find Gordon at the peak of his improvisational prowess, with a group that represents one of those rare occasions of pure chemistry, in a relaxed setting in one of his favourite venues. How much better can the mainstream get?
Personnel: Dexter Gordon (tenor saxophone), George Cables (piano), Rufus Reid (bass), Eddie Gladden (drums)
Track Listing: Disc One: It's You Or No One; Sophisticated Lady; Antabus; Easy Living; Backstairs/LTD Disc Two: The Panther; Tangerine; More Than You Know; Gingerbread Boy; Come Rain Or Come Shine Disc Three: You've Changed; Body and Soul; I Told You So; As Time Goes By