Dexter Gordon Quartet ‘Tokyo 1975’ LP/CD (Elemental Music) 4/5

This live recording from a major concert hall in Tokyo predates tenorist Dexter Gordon’s triumphant return to the United States after an extended stay in Europe (Scandinavia in particular) from the 1960s onwards That latter return was celebrated by an excellent Columbia double album, ‘Live at Keystone Corner’. On the earlier Japanese live date, however, what comes across is the tight rhythm section who were by now regulars in the Gordon band and these featured long-time collaborator Kenny Drew on piano (a near ever present on the Blue Note studio dates that Gordon recorded), Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (NHOP) on acoustic bass and Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath on drums. Of course, Dexter Gordon was adept at interpreting standards and making them his own, and on this occasion, a mid-tempo rendition of Henry Mancini’s ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ is accompanied by sensitive piano and rim-drums. In sharp contrast, the Gordon opus, ‘Fried Bananas’, receives a fiery uptempo version, with the outstanding driving bass of NHOP in close attendance .

One interesting inclusion is that of the Errol Garner number, ‘Misty’, and Gordon proves himself to be a master of the balladry form, while the blues is not forsaken on the Billy Eckstine and Earl Hines composition, ‘Jelly, Jelly, Jelly’. This gorgeous atmospheric piece features a charismatic Dex on lead vocals with crowd participation and supportive piano lines from Drew, before Gordon takes over with a tenor solo that includes a familiar riff from Sam Cooke’s ‘Chain Gang’, with the leader’s R & B background emphasised here. Bonus cuts from live sessions in Holland and New Haven, Connecticut respectively, contain a virtually identical line-up with ‘Rhythm-a-Ning’ for the former and the warm ballad, ‘Old Folks’, the joint pick of the bunch. A decade later, Gordon would achieve wider universal acclaim and an Oscar nomination, playing the fictional role of Dale Turner (in reality a thinly disguised cameo of pianist Bud Powell), as a jazz musician struggling to survive in 1950s Paris in Bertrand Tavernier’s critically acclaimed, ‘Autour de Minuit (‘Round Midnight)’. Incisive inner sleeve notes are written by Blue Note authority Michael Cuscuna and Gordon’s widow, Maxine Gordon, who also happens to be the author of a new biography of the tenorist, ‘Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon’ [November 2018]. The sleeve notes also include some fine black and white photos of the band behind the scenes. Excellent sound quality as one has come to expect from Japanese recordings.

Tim Stenhouse