Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Long Tall Dexter's Night Ballad Mastery

This writer remembers a weekend of performances by the great Dexter Gordon at the Tralfamadore Cafe in Buffalo in Spring 1977 with a local rhythm section. It was a weekend of music that brought together folk of all ages and ethnicity to see one of the greats of jazz. The tenor saxophonist who influenced Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, but who had been living for several years in Europe was making what was still a rare US tour before moving back.

Gordon was a commanding presence as well as one of the greatest of the post-war musicians to come up during the bebop era. It wasn't simply his playing, but his suave and sophisticated manner when speaking with folks or the audience. Around this time, he was be signed to Columbia Records and made a number of memorable recordings for them, continuing to perform and make music until his passing as well as be acclaimed for his acting in the movie "Round Midnight."

Dr. Robert E. Sunnenblick has produced for his Uptown label a new Dexter Gordon live recording, Night Ballads Montreal 1977. This was recorded at Rising Sun during an engagement in November of 1977 (the music on this recorded between November 9 and November 12). It had Dexter with his working band of George Cables on piano, Rufus Reid on bass and Eddie Gladden on drums who wouldn't record their first studio album until half a year later.

As suggested from the title, the focus on this set is on ballads which include Lover Man, You've Changed, Old Folks and Polka Dots and Moonbeams, along with a brief rendition of LTD, his theme song to close the release. These are, with the exception of the closing theme, lengthy ballad performances. Gordon of course is in the spotlight with his lengthy improvisations that caress the songs with warmth, wit and soul as he would explore the themes, incorporate musical quotes and let the magic develop.

Gordon, like Lester Young, believed in the importance of the lyrics andhe introduces the songs with his recitation of the lyrics in his deep, sonorous voice. In his playing, there is a hint of his idol, Ben Webster, in some of his playing here mixed in with his more lengthy bop inflected choruses. Pianist Cables also gets a fair share of solo space that allowed him to explore the melody in his distinctive style, with his playing on Old Folks being especially memorable.

The CD comes with a booklet with extensive annotation from Gordon's widow, Maxine alone with pianist Cables who provides astute and detailed comments on each of the performances. As wonderful as the music on Night Ballads is, over 70 minutes of ballads may be a bit much for some folks in one sitting, but that quibble doesn't change the view that the terrific music makes it a highly recommended addition to the body of Long Tall Dexter's recordings.

This was a purchase.

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