Dexter Gordon Live at Montmartre

cover SVL1018410

GORDON: King Neptune. I Want More. Cheese Cake. BAREFIELD-KING: Big Fat Butterfly.* BONFÁ-MARIA: Manha de Carnival. STITT-RICHARDS: Loose Walk. GARNER: Misty / Dexter Gordon, t-sax/*voc; Tete Montoliu, pno; Niels-Henning Ørsted-Pedersen, bs; Alex Riel, dm / Storyville SVL1018410 (live: Copenhagen, 1964)

This album of performances, being released here for the first time, recaptures the spell of Dexter Gordon’s first arrival on the Danish jazz scene in 1964. As drummer Alex Riel recalls, the rapport between Gordon and his Danish audiences wasn’t something he had to work on; it was just “there” from the first time he started playing for them. ““It wasn’t a case of going to work,” he recalled, “even though we played every single night in June, July and August during the summer of 1964. Dexter and Tete were there solely for the music, and so were Niels-Henning and I. Dexter loved being in Montmartre. He often stayed and jammed with the night shift when it took over, playing on till early morning.”

The very first track, King Neptune, begins in mid-performance: evidently, the opening of this piece has been lost. A drum and piano break, evidently the end of a chorus, gets great applause before we move into a bass solo by the splendid Ørsted-Pedersen, the finest Danish jazz bassist of his day, with Riel providing tasteful support on the drums. Then it’s Dexter’s turn. Although I never felt that Gordon was quite as inventive a tenor saxist as his onetime friend and rival, Wardell Gray (listen to their joint 1950s recordings of The Chase and The Steeple Chase to hear what I mean), he was clearly a strong influence on both Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane with his flat, tubular sound. The performance ends immediately after, then moves into Manha de Carnival, which became a hit song under the title A Day in the Life of a Fool (recorded by Vic Damone, Jack Jones, Harry Belafonte and Frank Sinatra).

Gordon really shines on this performance of Sonny Stitt’s Loose Walk, showing off his fluent technique and, at this stage in his career, a bit more willingness to take chances in his solos. Yet to be honest, I found Tete Montoliu’s piano solo even more daring and original—this is clearly one of the highlights of the album—and Ørsted-Pedersen is similarly brilliant here. And throughout these performances, I was really surprised by the exceptional clarity of sound. They almost sound as if they were made yesterday, that’s how good they are.

Indeed, as this program continues one is as much if not more impressed by the pianist and bassist as by Gordon. Dexter just always seemed to me a player on the brink of being an artist without quite reaching the heights, and this program does not change my mind. Of course, this doesn’t mean that he was a poor jazz musician, only that he wasn’t quite in the top tier, but after decades of living in Denmark he returned to the U.S. where he made the film ‘Round Midnight and became a legend. Yet I very much enjoyed his vocal on Big Fat Butterfly, and his solo here is one of his very best, improvising as much on the melody as on the harmony with great facility.

Gordon is also very good in the set’s closer, his original tune Cheese Cake “the kind…you eat…” he tells the audience in his low-voiced drawl). Overall, then, a fine set by Long Tall Dexter with sterling support from his bandmates.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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