LP Review: Dexter Gordon – Soy Califa

Dexter Gordon – Soy Califa
(Gearbox Records GB1526. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

Yet another forgotten nugget has been unearthed by Gearbox Records. And we’re talking a nugget of high grade gold ore here, not iron pyrite. These sessions date from the period (1962 to 1976) when Dexter Gordon was frequently playing — and living — in Copenhagen. Denmark was kind to the tenor virtuoso at a time when his drug use led to legal complications that kept him out of less enlightened countries. The Danes allowed him residence and ample opportunities to play, and Dexter returned the favour by teaching and performing at schools in Denmark. Magleaas Højskole was a kind of adult education college outside of Copenhagen, and Danish TV caught this live set there in August 1967. And now Gearbox, demonstrating again that they’re a front runner among independent British jazz labels, have preserved it on high quality vinyl and made it available to us.

On Soy Califa Dexter kicks off the proceedings by intoning the title, which roughly means “I am the king” — more literally “the chief civil and religious ruler,” as the Oxford English Dictionary would have it — although Dexter might have had the ruder Chilean slang meaning in mind, translating approximately as “I’m an enthusiastic lady’s man.” This a restless slab of vintage bop, reminiscent of a Dizzy Gillespie outfit at its most vital and Latin-flavoured, with Dexter Gordon’s saxophone issuing boisterous, affable stabs of sound against the churning and chiming percussion from Albert Heath. Dexter squeaks and skirls and sings before settling into a groove with Heath running like a train under him.

In contrast, Johnny Mandel’s ballad The Shadow of Your Smile — probably the highlight of the set — is an opportunity for Dexter to display his raw and ravishing tenor, stating and circling around the melody, pensive and tender like a dancer gradually embracing his partner. Kenny Drew’s piano is meditative and caressing, extracting Mandel’s lovely melody for us to savour. The mournful, moving ending makes you long for more.

The Blues Up and Down by Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons is a classic high energy chase which shows the virtuosity of the unit. A crowded and tumultuous hard bop excursion, it features some of the most nimble playing by Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on double bass. As the stampeding opening slows down and thins out, Kenny Drew plays long flowing lines, Dexter shows off on tenor, casually throwing in quotations and phrases and musical jokes, and Albert Heath thunders away on the drums.

An invigorating set and a genuine collector’s item. There are some limitations to the original tapes but Gearbox has done their usual state of the art restoration job. As is often the case with high fidelity monophonic recordings, the sound has excellent spatial qualities, a strong centralised soundstage and considerable presence. And of course the music itself is flawless. You may well find yourself agreeing with the audience’s rhythmic and insistent clapping at the end as they demand an encore.

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