Drummer Jason Bodlovich’s "Blues For Dexter" is a great tribute album to the late saxophone giant Dexter Gordon. With the exception of a couple of missteps, this album is almost perfect. One of the faults that I find with many tribute albums is that the players seem more intent on showing off their chops and playing every lick they know than truly recording a tribute to the artist they presume to be honoring. "Blues For Dexter" has, thankfully, avoided that pitfall. Joined by Steve Wolfe on tenor sax, Larry Fuller on piano, Jay Thomas on trumpet, flugelhorn & tenor sax and the legendary Ray Brown on bass, Bodlovich has managed to record a CD that truly captures the essence that was Dexter Gordon. Neither Wolfe nor Thomas stoop to trying to copy Dex’s solos or ‘ape’ his sound, yet they really bring to life the music that defined Gordon’s style and his impact on jazz as one of the preeminent saxophonists of the 50’s and 60’s.
You’ve also got to hand it to Bodlovich for putting together such a top-notch band. They play very cohesively together, with everyone contributing great solos. It’s especially nice to hear Thomas doubling on brass and woodwind - he’s one of the very few musicians playing today that can pull that off and sound excellent on both. The band tackles four Gordon originals (The Panther, Cheesecake, Catalonian Nights and The Duel) and a couple of Gordon signature standards (Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry, Tanya and Blues Up And Down). The tunes follow Dex from the late 1940’s thru 1970, allowing for quite a bit of variety.
There are also two versions of a Bodlovich original, "Blues For Dexter". One is a duet with the honorable Ray Brown and the other, the last track on the album, is a Bodlovich solo. That last track contains the only fault that I find with this entire album. The first three minutes or so, though not terribly exciting, isn’t bad. But after about a minute and a half of silence one’s ears are assaulted with the ‘hidden’ track, another three minute drum solo. The difference is that this one has been processed through a variety of effect devices - flangers, delays, distortion, etc. It’s an amazingly self-indulgent mess of a track that I believe has no place on this album whatsoever. It sounds like a leftover from some rock album he may have recorded at some point, and I have to wonder what possessed him to include it here. But thankfully it is the last track, and it’s easy enough to hit the ‘stop’ or ‘next’ button on your CD player when you hear that first span of dead air. And even if you forget or don’t hit the button in time, that three minutes of noise is a small price to pay for the opportunity to experience the other sixty-four joyous minutes of music that this album presents.