The upstairs room of a Birmingham suburban public house was the unlikely setting for my first encounter with Dexter Gordon. That was in the autumn of 1962 when the tenor saxophonist was freshly arrived in Europe and ready to embark on one of the most productive and happy periods of his career. Clutching a glass of the local brew with no great relish, Dexter chatted affably between sets.
I remember we discussed Wardell Gray at some length, and Dexter smiled fondly as he recalled their intermittent association. He also reported having recently made some recordings with Sonny Clark which he felt were better than his earlier comeback albums.
On the stand, the 6' 5" figure, sharply togged in houndstooth jacket, charcoal grey slacks and buttondown shirt, galvanized that audience with some of the most potent playing any of us had heard. Dexter made a lot of lifetime fans that night.
Five years later, I caught up with Dexter again during a brief weekend gig he made in Manchester, at the behest of the Garside Brothers. Once again on those evenings, his work was electrifying, as Peter Clayton will confirm, since we both sat together spellbound by the power and majesty of Gordon's improvisations.
Just a few months earlier, Dex had been captured on several peak playing nights at his favorite Montmartre Jazzhus club in a series of sets recorded under the supervision of Alan Bates for Black Lion. the resultant performances were of outstanding quality. They caught Dexter in expansive, relaxed mood in front of an appreciative audience. The Black Lions are undoubtedly among his finest European recordings.
This was recognized when a brace of albums from the "Montmartre Collection" were released in the early 1970s and it was comforting to know there were more of that caliber where those came from! In this new compilation, some 15 years later, here are some of the "more" from those exciting sessions in the Copenhagen venue which was Preacher Gordon's pulpit.
His companions were men with whom Long Tall Dexter felt secure. He had worked with pianist Kenny Drew in California during the mid-1950s, and they had later recorded together for Blue Note in New York and Paris. Close friends as well as being long-standing musical associates, their partnership flourished anew on the Continent.
Nils-Henning Ørsted Pederson, was only 20 at the time of these dates, but Gordon regarded him as the best bass player in Europe, an opinion he probably still holds to this day. Actually, Nils-Henning long ago became an international favorite- super soloist and a rock in any rhythm section he graces. The big Dane has more than confirmed Dexter's excellent judgement.
As for Al "Tootie" Heath, drummer and youngest of the richly talented Heath brothers, his propulsive work suited Gordon and meshed perfectly with the accompaniment of Drew and NHØP. So in this quartet it was a case of "four for all".
A measure of the group's ease and unity of purpose is the fact that practically every performance is an extended workout. But such is the involvement and communicative power of Dexter and chums that the listener is barely aware of the passage of more than a quarter of an hour from start to finish of Love for Sale. But Not for Me is of similar duration, but as Dexter and Drew unfurl chorus after chorus of inspired and dramatic improvisation, who notices the march of time?!
Running for a little over six minutes, I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry is among the briefest items in the Montmartre tapes. This delightful ballad, a favorite of Gordon's, was recorded by him with Sonny Clark some years earlier. Dexter surely "cries" on this one yet isn't over-sentimental. As ever, Kenny produces an enhancing and apt keyboard interlude. In the out chorus, Dex soars confidently into the upper register.
Like so may of his contemporaries, Gordon has been consistently sparked by the melodies of the great songwriters like George Gershwin and Cole Porter. On Porter's Love for Sale, the tenorman is positively molten as he finds fresh lava from a seemingly bottomless volcano of ideas. Stand by for a majestic eruption! Drew is fleet but not flighty as he develops a solo of unerring logic, laced with a satisfying bluesy spirit. When the ample tone of Nils takes over there is no reduction in voltage- a truly perfect bass solo. Tootie and Dexter swap eights with not a beat missed, and there's an extended and effective vamp exit.
After Gordon's bilingual welcome and his suggestion to the audience that, "of course you are an integral part of our endeavors" in the recording, the leader cuts a surging swath through But Not for Me territory. The leader's style, evolved through such influences as Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Don Byas and Ben Webster, also reveals that he closely listened to younger men like John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. These ingredients were intelligently absorbed in a wholly personal framework. Tonally and rhythmically he is completely his own man, a proud, individualistic voice. But Not for Me contains archetypal Dexter with brilliant contributions from Drew and NHØP in deep examination of Gershwin's excellent progression. The long coda includes a number of throwaway quotations from Three Blind Mice and My Kind of Love among others.
The other scorching item in this particular selection is an express version of Take the 'A' Train, a Duke Ellington chestnut well-roasted by the saxophonist who maintains a musical outpouring that is positively majestic for nine incredible choruses. This is an object lesson in how to build a solo. Drew, whose clever paraphrase of Duke's own intro sets the scene, lays out for the opening brace by Dexter, but returns to prompt and probe. Gordon greets the pianist's resumption with a lick from And the Angels Sing.
Take the 'A' Train is an essential piece of Dexteriana, a brilliant example of his colossal talent and artistic discipline. Listen to this solo 50 times and it will still surprise and satisfy.
Since the time of these recordings, Dexter Gordon has continued to flourish, making his mark as a sensitive actor in the movie 'Round Midnight and recording prolifically. He re-settled in the USA during the 1970s and for the first time was signed by a major label.
However, I firmly believe that he performed at his peak in the 1960s and it is now clear that these Black Lion sessions are among his best works- full of vibrant energy and creative consistency.
I find it difficult to believe that the lean, lanky, youthful looking man I first met all those years ago is now a veteran in his 67th year. But with eyes closed and Take the 'A' Train playing the years roll back as I'm once again in that smoke-filled pub lounge, and Dexter, knees shaking, and fingers flying is educating us all over again. And it was exactly the same, I'm sure at the Montmartre as the hip Danes worshiped at the master's feet. We are privy to that experience on this invaluable set.
- Mark Gardner (Contributor, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz)
Intro by Dexter Gordon 1.06
1. But Not for Me (14.59), 2. Take the 'A' Train (10.30), 3. For All We Know (2nd Ver.) (8.29), 4. Blues Walk (2nd Ver.), 5. Guess I'll Have to Hang My Tears Out to Dry (6.08), 6.Love for Sale (15.08)
Dexter Gordon (tenor saxophone), Kenny Drew (piano), Nils-Henning Ørsted Pederson (bass), Albert Heath (drums)
Recorded at the Montmartre Jazzhus, Copenhagen, July 21st, 1967, Recording Engineer: Birger Svan, Produced by Alan Bates, Photograph by Leni Sinclair, Cover Design by Ric Simenson
This CD has been remastered from the original recording tape. All background noises, such as pops, clicks or other noises have been removed as much as possible without compromising the original recording quality.