Newly discovered live concert material from two Jazz masters…

Dexter Gordon Quartet – Tokyo 1975 – Elemental Music  5990428 –  63:42 ****:

Woody Shaw – Tokyo ’81 – Elemental Music 5990429 – 73:28 ****1/2:

Continuing the exciting trend over the last decade of releasing previously unknown live recordings from Europe and the Far East, both Elemental Music and Resonance Records have filled a historical need by honoring jazz masters with presenting their music to an eager audience, who thought with good reason, that the well had gone dry on new material. In the late 1960s through the 1980s, well known American jazz musicians were received with open arms in Europe, while their counterparts in the States had to struggle to earn a decent living.

The trend has continued today for musicians outside of  New York City’s clubs and recording studios. For a jazz musician with a family there are few benefits for health insurance and retirement savings unless a teaching position at a well funded university can be found.

Both Woody Shaw and Dexter Gordon found eager audiences in Europe and Japan. Woody’s tenure in Europe was relatively brief, while Dexter lived in Copenhagen from 1962 to 1976. Gordon played as a single with local musicians backing him. He helped bring Denmark’s bassist, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, into prominence, with Pedersen playing with Dexter at only age 15.

Elemental is releasing both of these live sessions (along with bonus tracks from different sessions) this month. The remastering for the most part is more than adequate for concerts that were not miked for future issuance.

For Dexter’s Tokyo concert he was privileged to have pianist Kenny Drew, and drummer, Albert “Tootie” Heath. Drew was also a long time resident in Europe, having actually been out of the USA for many years. The material for the Tokyo concert was standards, and familiar Gordon staples. However, Dexter had the talent to bring a  passionate touch when he was performing in front of a larger audience. Whether it was including humorous introductions, or quoting pop references like “Popeye, the Sailor” during Monk’s “Rhythm-a-Ning,” Dexter could also hold his own as a vocalist on a sassy “Jelly, Jelly, Jelly,” complete with risque lyrics.

Dexter’s bop pedigree is on full display on “Fried Bananas,” while he livens up “Days of Wine and Roses” accompanied by some spot on bluesy solos by Kenny Drew.

“Misty” shows Dexter’s mastery of the ballad. In my opinion, of the tenor masters, only Ben Webster or Stan Getz can compare with Dexter on heart melting ballads.

As bonus tracks, Elemental has included the aforementioned “Rhythm-a-Ning” from Holland in 1973, with the same band minus Heath; as well as a 1977 reading of “Old Folks” with Gordon’s “homecoming” quartet of Ronnie Matthews, Stafford James, and Louis Hayes, recorded in New Haven, Ct.

Woody Shaw’s 1981 Tokyo date brings a lot more heat. Shaw’s band with trombonist, Steve Turre, and a rhythm section of Mulgrew Miller, bassist, Stafford James, and drummer, a young Tony Reedus, were up to the challenge of playing with a vibrant Shaw, fully in his prime.

Shaw reached his prime in the 1970s and 80s, a period when jazz took a back seat to rock and other musical distractions, unlike the golden age of jazz (early 50s through mid 60s) when trumpeters like Miles, Booker Little, Clifford Brown,  early Freddie Hubbard, and Lee Morgan received the headlines and acclaim. Shaw brought the same heat and was heading for longer lasting acclaim when he passed away at only 44 years old in 1989.

His period with this band lasted only two years, but they were memorable as Turre’s trombone provided a strong horn with which to blend, and also to mate with Shaw’s fire.

The rhythm section has a young Mulgrew Miller, a rock steady Stafford James, and muscular drummer, Tony Reedus, then just 22 years old.

Their repertoire for the Dec. 7, 1981 Tokyo concert was mostly Shaw originals, which went on to be staples of his career. “Rosewood,” the title of a Columbia Records release was named for his parents, Rosalie and Woody, Sr. Its melody is now well known by Woody’s fans. “Round Midnight” gets a faithful rendition to Monk’s vision, and Woody’s solo is pensive and articulate. “Apex” from Mulgrew Miller is a burner, spurred on by Reedus, with Shaw and Turre blowing heat.

“Moment to Moment” is a ballad enhanced by Turre’s somber bass trombone. Perhaps the strongest number is “Song of Songs” at 16 minutes. Liner notes indicate that Woody was influenced by suffering in Indochina during this time period, and the opening piano and bass have an Oriental motif, then the horns blend seamlessly. Miller’s piano lines brought McCoy Tyner to mind. There is a classical mood early on, before the track transitions to a more post bop feel. The Tokyo concert ends with a band intro on “Theme for Maxine” which was often used a set closer for Shaw.

As a bonus track, Elemental has added a July 14, 1985 track from an American ex-pat all-star band, that featured Woody with Johnny Griffin, Dizzy Reece, Slide Hampton, Kenny Drew, Jimmy Woode, and Billy Brooks. All these men return the love to their Dutch audience on Shaw’s “Sweet Love of Mine.”

I’d be remiss if I did not mention the valuable and well written liner notes with each CD.

The Gordon issue features essays from producer (and Blue Note and Mosaic Records impresario), Michael Cuscuna, as well as Dexter’s widow, Maxine Gordon.

The Shaw CD has a 16 page booklet with photos and essays from Cuscuna as well as Shaw’s son, Woody Shaw III.

Both of these CDs will make fans of Gordon and Shaw glad that their vision and talents are still appreciated, and that there is still hope for more unreleased material in the future.

Dexter Gordon Performing Artists:
Dexter Gordon – tenor sax; Kenny Drew – piano; Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen – bass; Albert “Tootie” Heath – drums;  Espen Rud – drums (#5); Ronnie Matthews – piano (#6); Stafford James – bass (#6); Louis Hayes – drums (#6)

Woody Shaw Performing Artsts:
Woody Shaw – trumpet and flugelhorn; Steve Turre – trombones and percussion; Mulgrew Miller – piano; Stafford James – bass; Tony Reedus – drums

Woody Shaw with The Paris Reunion Band on Track #7:
Dizzy Reece – trumpet; Slide Hampton – trombone; Johnny Griffin and Nathan Davis – saxophones; Kenny Drew – piano; Jimmy Woode – bass; Billy Brooks – drums)

Tracklist, Dexter Gordon:
Fried Bananas, Days of Wine and Rose, Misty; Jelly, Jelly, Jelly; Bonus tracks: Rhythm-a-Ning, Old Folks

Tracklist, Woody Shaw
Rosewood, ‘Round Midnight, Apex, From Moment to Moment, Song of Songs, Theme for Maxine, Sweet Love of Mine

—Jeff Krow