Joe Gordon ‘Lookin’ Good! – Last Sessions feat. Jimmy Woods’ (Fresh Sound) 5/5

joe-gordonTrumpeter Joe Gordon hailed from Boston, but recorded for west coast label Contemporary records. He is one of those jazz musicians who tragically had their life cut short and, in volume seemingly made a modest contribution to the music. However, in terms of quality he was a top grade practitioner who would surely have become a major name had he recorded over a long period of time. One could make a parallel with Booker Little, though stylistically Gordon was influenced more by Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown and possibly the young Lee Morgan from his early Blue Note period. In fact, the clean and crisp tone of Gordon’s trumpet playing begs further comparison, this time with Blue Mitchell, especially the tenure of the latter as part of the Horace Silver band. Gordon and Silver together would have been a mouth watering prospect fro jazz fans. This fantastic pairing of albums within equally allows the listener to hear the immensely talented alto saxophonist Jimmy Woods who serves as leader on the second album included, ‘Awakening’, from 1961/2.
Gordon plied his trade in Boston and studied at the New England Conservatoire under Fred Berman and while there began working with a whole host of musicians including Art Blakey, Charlie Mariano and even briefly with Charlie Parker. In the spring of 1958, Joe Gordon moved to Los Angeles and that is where and when the association with Contemporary truly commenced. He joined Shelly Manne’s group for two years and performed with Benny Carter and Barney Kessel. The album contained within was his second and, sadly, last as a leader and is an all-original set, showcasing the fully matured trumpeter as a composer of no little talent. This writer immediately succumbed to the charms of ‘Terra Firma Irma’, which comes across as a different take on Duke Pearson’s ‘Jeannine’ as performed by Donald Byrd and just as catchy in tone. A Latin-themed, ‘Mariana’, stands out for the superb use of polyrhythms by drummer Milt Turner and the gorgeous sounding, ‘Co-op blues’ is just as engaging with a warm alto solo from Woods. One surprise is the muted harmon that emanates from Gordon on the relaxed tempo of ‘A song for Richard’, a piece that is almost akin to a more uptempo take on ‘Autumn leaves’. An iconic photo cover of Joe Gordon in his prime by photographer Roger Marshutz practically defines the era.

The second album groups together two sessions from 1961 and 1962 respectively and features two differing line-ups with Jimmy Bond and a then young Gary Peacock alternating on bass. Stand out numbers here include ‘Anticipation’, which is a truly thrilling way to end the album and a re-reading of ‘Love for sale’, that Miles and Cannonball had recorded a near definitive version of on Blue Note just a couple of years previously. Woods excels as a leader here with Gordon performing on just two numbers including the title track while Martin Banks takes over trumpet duties elsewhere. As befitting a Fresh Sound re-issue, premier quality sound and no stones left unturned with highly informative inner sleeve notes

What would make a splendid follow up re-issue is the ‘Awakening’ album that Jimmy Woods and an all-star cast of musicians recorded back in 1963. These included musicians of the calibre of Andrew Hill, Carmell Jones, Harold Land while no less than Elvin Jones was featured on drums. Boplicity re-issued it on vinyl back in the late 1980s, but it really should be generally available again on CD in Europe because it is a bona fide classic and one that never received its full due first time round. Full marks to Jordi Pujol for re-issuing this fine duo of albums.

Tim Stenhouse