There’s something about Dexter Gordon’s warm tone and romantic approach, his proficiency with ballads and (pardon the pun) dexterity with burners, his method of stretching tunes beyond 20 minutes, the sympathetic sidemen he employed, the way his bands jelled in front of crowds, his poetic and gravelly introductions. Close your eyes, and you’re in a cramped club in hard bop’s heyday. It’s why we never tire of “new” recordings from the tenor titan, not even 30 years after his death.
Gordon’s live albums are gold—dreamy, no-frills sets in which his band might occupy an hour or more with just three or four songs —and that’s the case with Live in Châteauvallon 1978, a two-CD set recorded at a jazz festival in France. His sidemen (pianist George Cables, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Eddie Gladden) are the same guys with whom he recorded Live at Carnegie Hall six weeks earlier. In typical fashion, Gordon uses a four-song set to play for an hour and 45 minutes. (“Long Tall Dexter,” played briefly behind closing announcements, doesn’t count.) The shorter tunes (“Tangerine” and “Strollin’”) run more than 20 minutes each.
It’s a mostly midtempo affair, with Gordon turning in long, inspired solos on familiar tunes, occasionally sprinkling in playful quotes: “Pop Goes the Weasel” and “If I Were a Bell” in “Tangerine,” “Three Blind Mice” and the Bridal Chorus in “Gingerbread Boy.” The band does “More Than You Know” as a four-part suite: The beautiful balladry that opens the tune leads to an unaccompanied piano solo, which in turn leads to a seriously swinging movement, then slows back down to let Gordon take a break on his own. “Gingerbread Boy” spends more than half of its 37 minutes on unaccompanied bass and drum solos. This one’s up there with the wonderful Night Ballads: Montreal 1977, recorded with the same band and released in 2012. Keep these undiscovered Dexter records coming.