Dexter Gordon – Night Ballads, Montreal 1977 – Uptown Records UPCD27.65, 78:45 ****½:
(Dexter Gordon, tenor sax; George Cables, piano; Rufus Reid, bass; Eddie Gladden, drums)
Dexter Gordon returned to the United States in 1976 after nearly a decade and a half abroad. Gordon had left the country for Scandinavia while in his prime after recording a series of classic LPs for Blue Note Records. He periodically came back to the States for visits during this period while recording for Steeplechase Records in Europe. His full time return in 1976 was a major media event and he was treated as a conquering hero with major crowds packing the New York City jazz clubs to catch the master.
He immediately joined up with Woody Shaw’s group of Ronnie Matthews, Stafford James, and Louis Hayes. When he wanted to form his own band recommendations from Shaw and others brought George Cables, Rufus Reid, and Eddie Gladden as his “dream“ trio. This was a group that would not overshadow Gordon, yet would provide solid support and creative ideas to support their leader’s exploration of the standards.
Dexter was known for his ability to pour chorus after chorus of emotive blowing without repetition, and frequent witty references showing an active imagination and a keen sense of humor. Gordon’s blowing was soulful and husky with a brawniness that matched his height and stature. Uptown’s Dr. Robert E. Sunenblick has scored a coup by obtaining permission to release five tracks from Gordon’s four night visit to Montreal’s The Rising Sun club.
Gordon was a raconteur, whose stay in Europe even embellished his hipness. Listeners to Night Ballads will either be charmed or a bit distracted by Gordon’s “introductions” to the four standards that get extended treatment on this CD. The standards range in time from sixteen to over twenty minutes in length, so Dexter has the freedom and charm to quote song lyrics before beginning playing. He speaks French to his French Canadian audience, which adds to his panache.
Once Gordon begins to blow, however, time stands still as he epitomizes one of the all time classic tenor stylists—comparable to Hawkins, Webster, and Rollins, all masters of the brawny tenor tone.
Mention should also be made of the classy liner notes for this issue as both Dexter’s widow, Maxine Gordon, and pianist George Cables, discuss Dexter’s playing and his interpretations surrounding the classic compositions that we know well but are made magical once again through the mastery of Dexter Gordon’s tenor saxophone.
For fans of Dexter and tenor sax ballads the purchase of Night Ballads is de rigueur. Once again Uptown Records’ Flashback Series has brought a treat to treasure.
TrackList: Spoken Intro, Lover Man, You’ve Changed, Old Folks, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, LTD
Rob Silverman: Drumology Vol 2; Pat Petrillo Big Rhythm Band: The Power Station Sessions – Autumn Hill Records
Two excellent percussion-inspired releases from an emerging jazz label.