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Dexter Gordon: Soul Sister (SteepleChase)

A review of two live sets that are invaluable additions to the saxophonist’s recorded legacy

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Dexter Gordon: Soul Sister (SteepleChase)
The cover of Soul Sister by Dexter Gordon

In 1962, Dexter Gordon was in fine fettle physically and musically. Clean and sober since his final release from prison on drug charges several years earlier, he’d signed with Blue Note in 1961 and had since made some of the most esteemed recordings of his career. His gigs, though, were in a slump. So when London club owner Ronnie Scott offered Gordon a gig that September, he jumped at the opportunity. What began as a month-long U.K. residency turned into a 14-year European residency, during which Gordon would rejuvenate his performing career, his international reputation, and his life.

Until now, though, we’ve had little documentation of what his music sounded like during his first few years as an expatriate. Hence these two sets, recorded live in Copenhagen in 1963 and in the Oslo studio of NRK (Norwegian public radio) in 1962, are invaluable additions to Gordon’s recorded legacy. Especially notable is the presence of then-16-year-old bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on the live Copenhagen set.

Gordon is at full power and full swing, effortlessly negotiating the songs’ harmonic and melodic structures with his legendary pinpoint timing and burnished, voice-like tone; inserting sly quotes (“Blues in the Night,” “Summertime,” “Pop Goes the Weasel[!]”) at opportune moments; sounding every bit like a man restored. The set list consists mostly of material he’d recorded recently. The exceptions are “A Night in Tunisia,” tinged with playful exoticism and sinewy grace, and the mid-tempo blues “Stanley the Steamer,” which he wouldn’t record under his own name until 1969’s The Tower of Power!

Any addition to the monumental legacy of Dexter Gordon is notable. One such as this, powered by the unceasing inspiration and deep-running soulfulness that defined both the music and the man, is cause for celebration.

Learn more about Soul Sister at Amazon!

Dexter Gordon and the Truth of ‘Round Midnight

David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.