When Dexter Gordon ended his 14-year European expatriate period and returned to the United States in 1976, he signed with Columbia and quickly made three classic albums. Two were reissued in the 1990s: Homecoming and Sophisticated Giant. The third, Manhattan Symphonie, has just become available on CD for the first time.
It is an astonishing fact that the quartet here (with George Cables, Rufus Reid and Eddie Gladden) was the first regular working band that Gordon ever led—he was 55 at the time. Anyone who plans to own only one Gordon album should make it Manhattan Symphonie. It is an hour of undiluted Gordon in excellent form, and it’s all here: the gigantic, blustering tenor-sax sound (optimized by Mark Wilder’s DSD mastering); the teasing tension of the behind-the-beat phrasing; the quotes from “Mona Lisa.”
There are two textbook Gordon heart-on-sleeve, tough-love ballads (“As Time Goes By” and “Ruby My Dear”), a surprisingly edgy version of Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice” and a 13-minute “Body and Soul” that could stand for his whole career. In the final impassioned unaccompanied cadenza, his ruminative, halting offerings make you wonder if he knows where he’s going. But he gets there.