LP reviews

Dexter Gordon – ‘The Squirrel’

Dexter Gordon – The Squirrel (Parlophone 5054197065835. Double LP review by Peter Jones)

From 1963 to 1976 Dexter Gordon lived in Paris and then Copenhagen. Back home in America the appetite for jazz, and hence the work available for jazz musicians, was in sharp decline, but in Europe it was going strong. Signed to Blue Note in the States, he continued recording for them as an expatriate until the mid-Sixties, when he recorded mainly for Prestige. His regular band for years consisted of Kenny Drew on piano, Niels-Henning Ørsted Peterson on bass and either Alex Riel or Tootie Heath on drums, but here the bassist is the young Dane Bo Stief and the drummer is Art Taylor – another US expatriate. And what a difference Taylor makes to the band’s sound.

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These four sides were recorded at the Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen (where Dexter Gordon often introduced himself as Bent Gordonsen) on 20 June 1967 by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, but thirty years passed before Blue Note put them out on CD. Now, for the first time, we can hear them on vinyl, just like those terrific Steeplechase records of the 1970s, which documented Gordon’s sojourn in Denmark with releases like King Neptune and The Apartment. The Squirrel has only four tracks on it, one per side, and therefore features Dexter Gordon at his most expansive.

Whatever qualities Art Taylor brought to seminal recordings like Miles Ahead and Giant Steps, on this gig he subjects band and audience alike to what can only be described as a bombardment. During the title track by Todd Dameron he plays a permanent drum solo behind Gordon’s own solo, rendering Drew and Stief almost inaudible. And although he eases off a little during Kenny Drew’s solo spot, the dropping of bombs continues, so that his own solo sounds pretty much the same as his accompaniment. Gordon’s composition Cheesecake on side B is a tune normally taken at a lively tempo, but here it shifts up a couple of gears. Taylor goads Gordon into a series of daredevil aerobatics, the tenor soaring and diving, at one point sounding a series of klaxon-type notes as if signalling fighter pilots to scramble. On the lovely You’ve Changed, Taylor appears at first to have bailed out, with only the distant rattle of the hi-hat, and the odd bang, crack or sizzle to let us know he’s still in action, thus allowing us to appreciate the sweet throb of Bo Stief’s bass and Kenny Drew’s rippling piano.

But it turns out that Taylor was merely refuelling for a final onslaught on Sonnymoon For Two, during which he fires round after round in pursuit of Gordon’s fleeing horn. When it’s time for Kenny Drew’s solo, Taylor follows the piano so closely, you can almost see the whites of his eyes behind the goggles. At the end of the tune Gordon and Taylor circle each other with all guns blazing before Taylor executes a final victory roll on the drums. It’s not always pretty, but they put on a damned fine show.

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