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DVD/Video/Film Reviews

Jazz Icons Series 2 Set: Wes, Mingus, Coltrane, Dexter, Duke, Brubeck and More.

By Published: December 10, 2007
While "On Green Dolphin Street," "Walkin'" and "The Theme" will be familiar tunes to fans of pre- Seven Steps to Heaven Miles, Coltrane's performance is nothing short of remarkable. Endless invention abounds, even in the more straight-ahead (but no less impressive) context of his band mates. While the Coltrane of 1960 was a considerably more inside Coltrane than the adventurous player of even a year later, he seems ready at this time to expand on his new freedom were it not for the restrictions of a television recording session.

As was common at the time, the Coltrane session finishes with two pieces that include his JATP tour mates and reveal, once again, just how progressive Coltrane already was. Getz joins Coltrane, Kelly, Chambers and Cobb for a ballad medley and, while Getz's reputation was certainly well-established by that time, hearing him play next to Coltrane also reveals how relatively conservative he was. Possessing a warm, almost silken tone when compared to Coltrane's sharper and drier sound, he may have garnered success due to his accessibility, but when the two play in tandem, his shortcomings, especially harmonically, will become obvious to many viewers.

The contrast is even more apparent when Kelly relinquishes the piano seat to Peterson, who joins the others for an up-tempo take of Thelonious Monk's "Hackensack." While Peterson's virtuosity and assertive stance fit in perfectly, once again Getz is left in the dust—even more so when Coltrane lets loose a blistering solo with a bluesy edge that Getz on this occasion simply can't match. Getz is no slouch, but he sounds comparatively predictable and, again, when the two tenors play in tandem, is overshadowed by Coltrane's sheer power.

A year later Coltrane had accelerated into the fast lane, and this 1961 German performance shows just how far he'd come in only twelve months. With pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones in place for what would become Coltrane's classic quartet, he's also joined by bassist Reggie Workman and Dolphy who, in the context of Coltrane's extended improvisations, is given the opportunity to go even further out than he does on the Mingus set, despite this being recorded three years earlier. Mixing one ballad with a blistering take of "My Favorite Things" and fiery "Impressions," Coltrane begins to place increasing emphasis on soprano sax. It's not a pretty sound—emulating, as it does, the thin sound of Indian double reed instruments—but it is a compelling one; a sound that had rarely been heard at that point. While it's impossible to deny the talent of Coltrane's rhythm section from a year earlier, Tyner and Jones were already clearly the partners he'd been looking for, both playing with an intensity that matched Coltrane's own burning experiments.

If "My Favorite Things" of 1961 is a shot across the bow, Coltrane's version with Tyner, Jones and Garrison in the 1965 Belgium clip demonstrates even greater acceleration towards the free play to which he'd soon devote himself, with his classic quartet not long after. Still, at this point Coltrane hadn't completely deserted concepts of structure and clearer melodism, especially on a beautiful version of his ballad, "Naima." Still, it's the opening duet with Jones, "Vigil," that provides insight into where Coltrane was soon to head, making this DVD a 95-minute time capsule of the evolution of one of the 20th Century's most significant jazz artists.

Jazz Icons / Dexter GordonDexter Gordon
Live in '63 and '64
Reelin' in the Years

While tenor bebop legend Dexter Gordon was a Copenhagen, Denmark resident at the time of both these European dates from 1963 (Switzerland) and 1964 (Holland and Belgium), he was still working with American musicians—at least, some of the time. The 1963 performance from this seventy-minute compilation finds Long Tall Dexter playing with pianist Kenny Drew and drummer Art Taylor although both, like Gordon, had moved to Europe, where the climate for jazz was far warmer. Bassist Gilbert "Bibi" Rovere rounds out the quartet for a set that demonstrates Gordon's charismatic personality—with and without a horn in his hand, his introductions to the songs almost as entertaining as the songs themselves.

With a robust tone and an ability to find new things to say with every chorus, Gordon may not have been enjoying the kind of rapid ascendancy of Coltrane in America at the time, but his career—which would prove to be a far longer one—was remarkably consistent, up until his death in 1990. Here, and in his 1964 performances with a group of native Europeans—pianist George Grunz, bassist Guy Pedersen and drummer Daniel Humair—Gordon works his way through a series of standards and occasional original tunes, demonstrating why he was considered by many the tenor equivalent of Charlie Parker's alto.

Jazz Icons / Dave BrubeckDave Brubeck
Live in '64 and '66
Reelin' in the Years

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