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April 1997

Dexter Gordon
The Complete Blue Note Sixties Sessions
Blue Note Records

Dexter Gordon (1923-1990) was a giant. Playing as a teenager with Lionel Hampton in 1940, and then with Louis Armstrong, Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron and Wardell Gray, Gordon became a vibrant link connecting the foot-stomping swing of the big band era with the virtuosic flight of bop. Appropriately, Gordon was hailed as the period's first bebop tenorman. He was also an harbinger of things to come via his pivotal influence on both Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.

In discussing his rich recording legacy, one can point to just about any point in Gordon's career and justifiably say, "amen!" Still, Gordon's distinguished tenure with Blue Note (1961-1965) marked a particularly fruitful period. As caught in such Blue Note classics as "Clubhouse," "Our Man in Paris," "A Swingin' Affair" and "Go," Dex's towering command, while still an exemplar of joie-de-vivre improvisation, was also pivotal in jump-starting a career that had been derailed during the 1950s because of drugs. Dexter, as indicated by the title of his 1961 Blue Note debut, was back in town and "Doin' Allright" (sic). In this meticulously remastered six-disc reprise of Gordon's ebullient Blue Note tenure, his majesterial tenor orates with Olympian authority. On ballads, whether his signature "You've Changed" or the poignant reframing of the Glenn Miller hit "Serenade in Blue," Gordon's bel canto tenor moves effortlessly between his voluptuous lower and plaintive higher registers. A romanticist of the first order, his plangent pleadings resonate with heart-on-sleeve ardor. On boppish romps, be it the rowdy "Second Balcony Jump" or the smoking "Scrapple from the Apple," the Big Man struts with style. A quote-master the equal of Bartlett, Gordon, while dropping citations ranging from Broadway to bop, also displays his penchant for teasing the time, sometimes running ahead, but usually tugging from just behind. Though rhythm sections varied, with Dex at the wheel, everyone transcended. Pianists include Kenny Drew, Sonny Clark, Barry Harris and Bud Powell; bassists, Paul Chambers and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, drummers, Philly Joe Jones, Art Taylor and Billy Higgins; and trumpeters, Freddie Hubbard and Donald Byrd.

The set is accompanied by an unusually interesting booklet. There are thoughtful reflections by Michael Cuscuna and Bruce Lundvall. There are astute annotations by Dan Morgenstern, along with complete discographic data and a handsome collection of photos and original album covers. Most impressive, though, is the revealing correspondence between Gordon and Blue Note executive Francis Wolff and Alfred Lion. Also unique are the recorded bits and pieces of Dexter speaking on subjects such as youth, bebop and Charlie Parker, which conclude several of the discs.

This extraordinary testament to jazz as serious fun promises to be a "must" for fans of Gordon, of jazz, and, indeed, of life itself. Thanks Dexter! And thank you Francis Wolff and Alfred Lion!

Originally published in April 1997
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