CD review

CD REVIEW: Dexter Gordon Quartet – Tokyo 1975

Dexter Gordon – Tokyo 1975
(Elemental Music 5990428. CD Review by Leonard Weinreich)

In all likelihood, Dexter Gordon is the only tenor saxophone player with an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Bertrand Tavernier’s 1986 Round Midnight). His talent was displayed early in his career when he skilfully impersonated the airiness and behind-the-beat style of Lester Young, later adding the rich chordal explorations of Coleman Hawkins and reshaping his version of the combination to suit the challenging topology of bebop.

Here, on tracks over 40 years old, never before released and curated by Michael Cuscuna (the most distinguished archaeologist in jazz?), we experience Dexter in full roar. Not only is this his debut performance in Japan, but it’s also Nils-Henning Ørsted Pedersen’s final recorded appearance with this group. And, because the four Tokyo recordings alone would have made an insubstantial CD, they’re augmented by two extended bonus live numbers recorded elsewhere (with group changes): Rhythm-A-Ning, from a 1973 Dutch concert and Old Folks, performed live in the U.S. in 1977.

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At 6’ 6”, Dexter was a physical, as well as musical, giant. Towering over most of humankind, let alone his Japanese hosts, his grumbled that “the ceilings are too low and the beds too short”. If these discomforts caused a stiff neck or muscular aches, no audible evidence exists (and, being a Japanese concert, the sound was meticulously engineered). Of the four titles recorded in Tokyo, three (Fried Bananas, Days of Wine and Roses and Jelly, Jelly, Jelly) conjure gastronomic overtones, allowing Gordon to serve course after course of tasty ideas spicily garnished with a fair sprinkling of quotes (Sonny Boy, Chicago, etc.). In full flow, Gordon is an unstoppable force (refer to his epic thrilling duels with fellow tenor master, Wardell Gray). Few jazz musicians can compete with the torrential effect. Or swing as hard.

Having appeared frequently at Copenhagen’s legendary Montmartre Jazzhus club, the band’s ESP is other-worldly. Hardly a surprise because, even earlier, Kenny Drew had been Gordon’s deft piano sparring partner on highly rated U.S. recordings. Nils-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, a native Dane, was a virtuoso bassist who turbo-charged all the performances (check the second chorus of Days of Wine and Roses). And drummer, Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath (a jazz aristo, brother of bassist Percy and tenor player Jimmy), digs in deeply behind Gordon on Days of Wine and Roses. Errol Garner’s ballad Misty, usually a cue for syrupy expression, is approached with sensitivity. In place of cloying sentiment, we hear luscious sustained tones from Dexter and sparkle from Drew supported by Niels-Henning in monster form. To the audience’s delight, on Jelly, Jelly, Jelly (has no academic yet written a thesis on the prevalence of copulatory imagery in jazz song titles?), Gordon sings the 1941 Billy Eckstine back-beat blues that caused second balconies to writhe with pleasure (apparently, Eckstine was once accused of stealing the song from Dexter). The appreciative applause threatened to raise the Yubin Chokin’s roof.

Rhythm-A-Ning was taped in Laren, Holland, two years before the Japanese tour. Gordon’s second chorus with Nils-Henning will fold back your ears with pleasure. Drums are handled by Norwegian Espen Rud. And Old Folks, taken at leisurely tempo, was recorded in 1977 in New Haven with Ronnie Matthews (who supplies a delicious piano solo), bassist Stafford James and drummer Louis Hayes.


Fried Bananas; Days of Wine and Roses; Misty; Jelly, Jelly, Jelly; Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone; Kenny Drew, piano; Nils-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, bass; Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath, drums. Recorded live Yubin Chokin Hall, Tokyo, Japan, October 1, 1975

Rhythm-A-Ning; Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone; Kenny Drew, piano; Nils-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, bass; Espen Rud, drums. Recorded live De Boerenhofstee, Laren, Netherlands, July 18 1973

Old Folks; Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone; Ronnie Matthews, piano; Stafford James, bass; Louis Hayes, drums. Recorded live New Haven, Connecticut, U.S. May 5 1977

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