Dexter Gordon was one of the most important tenor saxophonists to emerge in the bop/post-bop era, and he remained a formidable player for at least 4 decades. A tall, good looking and likeable man, he dominated the stage whether as leader or sideman. For the vast majority of the extraordinary music collected here, he was, indeed, the band leader, and what bands they were!
This 11-CD box offers, as the title indicates, a complete overview of Dexter Gordon’s output on Prestige. Covering 1950 to 1973, the collection is rife with magical moments. Here you’ll find a wonderful 1969 quartet date with Barry Harris, Tootie Heath and Buster Williams on Gordon’s gorgeous "The Rainbow People," and a 1973 set recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival on which he is joined by Hampton Hawes (on acoustic and electric piano), bassist Bob Cranshaw and the great Kenny Clarke on drums. That quartet is further augmented by Gene Ammons (tenor), Cannonball Adderley (alto), Nat Adderley (cornet) and percussionist Kenneth Nash for a houserockin’ "’Treux Blue," originally released under Ammons name. Gordon is mesmerizing, too, on his "Jodi," with Dolo Coker (piano), Charles Green (bass) and the wonderful Larance Marable (drums). He could play ballads as good as anyone in jazz. "Dinner For One Please, James," a previously unissued piece, again with Harris, Heath and Williams, is one of the most beautiful he ever recorded.
Dexter was also at home on medium and quick tempo pieces, as aptly displayed on "Move," the fiery nearly 10-minute bop opener from a 1950 live date at the Hut Hut Club in Los Angeles issued under tenorist Wardell Gray’s name and featuring Clark Terry (trumpet), Sonny Criss (alto), pianist Jimmy Bunn, bassist Billy Hadnot and drummer Chuck Thompson. The 1965 version of "Setting The Pace," with Booker Ervin (tenor), Jaki Byard (piano), Reggie Workman (bass) and Alan Dawson (drums) is a solid blowing session originally issued under Ervin’s name that highlights Gordon’s quick wit and imagination. Even the version of the 1969 pop hit "Those Were The Days" still sounds fresh, so inventive was Dexter’s playing. And on the follow-up "Stanley The Steamer," it is almost possible to follow the fascinating thought process that was invested in his solo section.
The 23 minute Bird-inspired take on Monk’s "Rhythm-a-ning," with Bobby Timmons, Victor Gaskin and Percy Brice, recorded live at Baltimore’s Famous Ballroom in 1969, is a work out that rivals anything in the bop lexicon. All of the players take extended and impressive solos, but none as impressive as the leader’s. The 22-minute version of "Love For Sale," from the same performance, is as impressive.
Dexter’s version of Clifford Brown’s "Blues Walk," with Tommy Flanagan, Larry Ridley and a very busy Alan Dawson on the set, is seamless, with beautiful upper register work that is followed by Flanagan at his best. On "Dexter’s Deck," recorded in 1969 with James Moody, Barry Harris, Buster Williams and Tootie Heath, the interplay between the tenor players is electrifying.
"Lady Bird," with Dexter Gordon and James Moody. It just doesn’t get any better. Beautiful takes, too, on the 17 minute live "Boston Bernie," with Bobby Timmons, Victor Gaskin (bass) and the somewhat stiff Percy Brice (drums), as well as an interesting alternate take on the tune. The live "Rhythm-a-ning" with Oliver Jackson swinging on the drums, along with Junior Mance’s percussive piano and Martin Rivera’s bass, builds a foundation over which Dex catapults. This 1970 set from the Montreux festival is on fire and the audience eats it up. A superb "Body and Soul," with an extended solo space given to Gordon, is sandwiched between more Monk, with a swinging "Blue Monk" following. Mance is especially impressive here, as well. A 1970 live set captured at Chicago’s North Park Hotel features the tenorist with co-leader Gene Ammons, Jodie Christian (piano), Rufus Reid (bass) and Wilbur Campbell (drums). Vi Redd adds vocals on "Lonesome Lover Blues."
The extraordinary drummer Roy Brooks joins Wynton Kelly on piano and consummate bassist Sam Jones for impressive takes on "Evergreenish," yet another version on "Rhythm-a-ning," "For Sentimental Reasons (I Love You So), "If You Could See Me Now, " a Latin-ish "Star Eyes" and "The Jumpin Blues" for one of the strongest sets on the disc. Some of the most impressive playing is displayed on the 10th disc, on which the tenor giant is joined by Freddie Hubbard (trumpet and flugelhorn), Cedar Walton (piano), Buster Williams (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). Their versions of "Milestones," the beautiful "Scared To Be Alone" and the galloping "The Group" are superb. The rest of the disc features a 1972 group with Thad Jones (trumpet, flugelhorn), brother Hank Jones (drums), Stanley Clarke (bass) and Louis Hayes. Given that three-fifths of the group has roots in Detroit, it isn’t surprising that the tone is gritty, soulful and fiery, particularly on the two versions of "Airegin" offered here.
Ted Panken’s 27 pages of liner notes are exhaustive and riveting. The photos are priceless, especially one of Dexter, a bewildered-looking Hampton Hawes and Gene Ammons. It is the music, of course, that matters most and Dexter Gordon never fails to impress. Through 88 tunes (16 of which were previously unissued), Dexter Gordon’s monumental strength, beauty and inherent musicality shines. One of the most important jazz collections of the year, this comes highly recommended from these quarters.