Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Dexter Gordon - "Clubhouse" - The Blue Note Years Part 9

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Gordon was a major force in the emergence of modern tenor saxophone styles. His main influence was Lesler Young, but he also displays an extrovert intensity reminiscent of Herschel Evans and Illinois Jacquet. His rich, vibrant sound, harmonic awareness, behind-the-beat phrasing, and predilection for humorous quotations combine to create a unique style. Gordon's music strongly affected the two leading tenor saxophonists of the succeeding generation, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Gordon was later influenced in turn by Coltrane.and even, following Coltrane's example, adopted the soprano saxophone during the late 1970s. A volume of transcriptions of his performances has been published by Lennie Niehaus (Dexter Gordon Jazz Saxophone Solos: Transcriptions from the Original Recordings, Hollywood, CA, 1979). 

- Lewis Porter, Barry Kernfeld, Ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.

“Rollins and Coltrane? I listen to them – not religiously or anything, but I hear them on the radio and on sides and so forth. I feel kinda honored and say: “Well, the seeds are spreading.” Both John and Sonny are constantly experimenting. They’re trying to come up with something new and to progress everything—which I think is great. I personally don’t go for the abstract type of jazz that some of the cats are playing today. To me it doesn’t make it. It’s not rounded enough. It seems like they’re taking one essence or one emotion and building and playing on that.

After about ten choruses of that the listener is about nuts. You come out from listening to something like that and you’re on edge. They’re only giving you a part of the story, and consequently they’re losing something.Music as we know it today is a conglomeration of several different types of jazz. For it to grow there have to be the experimenters. But as for what Ornette and the people on that Freedom kick do–I don’t think that’s it. But there are some good and essential things in it, new color and so forth.”

- Dexter Gordon in 1962 Crescendo Magazine interview with Les Tomkins, now in the UK National Jazz Archive

Recorded in 1965, but not released until 1979 following a discovery of this material by producer Michael Cuscuna, Clubhouse [LT-989/CDP 7 84445 2] is the second of three Blue Note recordings belately issued following Dexter Gordon’s 1961-1965 association with the label.

There’s more of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard on hand along with Dexter’s old running mate from California, Billy Higgins on drums, and first time pairings with pianist Barry Harris and bassist Bob Cranshaw.

Fortunately, Ira Gitler, who provided annotations when Dexter’s first Blue Note recordings were issued in 1962, was also available to write the insert notes for the tracks on Clubhouse which help place them in the larger context of Dexter’s recording career.

“When Dexter Gordon came to New York from Copenhagen in 1976 for appearances at Storyville (now Storytowne) and the Vanguard, he was given a hero's welcome. In 1965 his visit to Manhattan was not as widely celebrated. He had taken up residence in Europe in 1962, finally settling in Copenhagen where he became a fixture at the Club Montmartre and one of Denmark's favorite adopted sons. The series of albums he had commenced recording for Blue Note in 1961 - beginning with Doin' Alright (Blue Note 84077) - had put him back into the jazz listeners' consciousness but club owners weren't waiting in line to book him nor were customers standing patiently outside dubs in order to be able to catch his next show. Those who came, however, usually filled the club and left fulfilled, for to be present at one of Dexter Gordon's performances is to be in the presence of a preacher who disseminates messages of warm, love feelings and robust, witty celebrations of life (not expressions of undisciplined emotion). One usually leaves Rev. Gordon's temple in a state of exaltation.

Dex's physical appearance — tall, tan and handsome — has always been imposing. When his musical talent caught up to the edifice in which it was contained, a powerful combination was established.

I didn't hear him when he was with Lionel Hampton. His only solo outing in that band was as part of a tenor battle with Illinois Jacquet on a never recorded number called "Po'k Chops." I did see him in his Billy Eckstine and 52nd Street days at the Sunday afternoon jam sessions standard at the time. His charisma was as evident as the wide-brim hats he used to sport and his magnetism came through on those first Savoy recordings.

I didn't know him in those days but when he came from California to record Doin' Alright and Dexter Calling I did a feature on him for down beat. It was like a reunion with an old friend rather than meeting with someone for the first time. This wasn't completely unique for wherever Dex plays, old friends came up to greet him. Some actually know him; others are connected to him by his music. They are the people who grew up on the Savoy and Dial 78s. Now they are also the younger generation who have heard those sides on the LP reissues of the '70s.

Doin' Alright and Dexter Calling were followed by a string of excellent albums taped in the U.S. (Go! and A Swingin' Affair) and Paris (Our Man in Paris and One Flight Up). His 1964-65 trip to America produced Gettin’ Around with vibist Bobby Hutcherson. Little did we know that on the day before the Gettin’ Around date Dex, with Freddie Hubbard and the same rhythm section (Barry Harris, Bob Cranshaw and Billy Higgins), had done another session. Finding a Dexter Gordon album is like finding gold, even at a time when he is more than well represented on record. Whether it contains material done elsewhere (there are two such here) is not the point. It is the interpretation of that moment — what Dex was into at that particular time — that is important. Hubbard, one of the significant trumpeters to follow in the wake of Clifford Brown, wasn't always a star but he always could play. Some purists didn't care for his CTI period; others, more justifiably, have turned up their noses at his Columbia fusions. Whatever his current persuasion he remains a giant trumpeter. This unearthed outing should accommodate all his fans.

Harris, bearer, protector and enhancer of the bebop gonfalon, has persevered, enduring much job insecurity during the lean rock years, and triumphed as a recording leader in his own right. True to his musical ideals, he now occupies a position as a young elder statesman whose wise words and knowing notes are listened to by young as well as veterans.

Cranshaw has continued to be one of the most sought after bassists in the highly competitive New York arena. Sharp eyes can pick him out in the band on NBC-TV's "Saturday Night Live" but he's usually busy Sunday to Friday, too, in a variety of musical situations.

Higgins had already collaborated with Gordon several successful times before this recording. Hig is spirited as he is precise; as sensitive as he is swinging When the groove is really happening you can look to the back of the bandstand and see the big smile on Billy's face. His uplifting beat helps to make everyone else happy too.

Gordon's "Hanky Panky' could be subtitled "Chunky Funky" for its solid, bluesy, marching beat. Dex comes out stating a basic idea and then proceeds to elaborate and expand on it so he builds his solo, chorus by chorus. Hubbard also shapes his solo thoughtfully, alternating upward bursts with simpler phrases. There’s an implicit link to Louis Armstrong in his brassy brilliance. Then a relaxed Harris, sitting just behind the beat, seems to contemplate the scenery, commenting on it as it goes past his window at a comfortable pace.

Someone once wrote that Coleman Hawkins turned the saxophone into the "sexophone," and we've often heard Ben Webster's tone described as a "boudoir sound." Dex displays his romance/ sexuality on "I'm A Fool to Want You". Macho tenor yes, but for all to share in. Freddie with a hint of Nature Boy plays a tender, yearning solo before Dexter returns. Dig his friendly growl like a big tiger purring.

A winsome introduction by Harris leads into Gordon's "Clubhouse" a lithe, skipping Dameronian theme. The way it lays is arranged perfectly for commentary by Higgins and this is fully realized at the piece's conclusion. "Clubhouse's" harmonic structure allows for the most elegant, sophisticated bebop invention. Dex is at his suavest; Freddie fiddles fleetly; and Barry distills the Bud-Monk essence to its inevitable, logical beauty. Sometimes there are "perfect" solos and Harris' is just that. After Cranshaw picks one, Higgins gets a chance to swing into full play.

"Devilette", by bassist Ben Tucker, is a mixture of a "soul" feeling with a modal mood. It first reached record through Gordon in The Montmartre Collection for Black Lion in 1967 but this one was done two years earlier. Cranshaw and Higgins do not solo but they are a strong force throughout as they expertly underpin the principal soloists.

At this writing we don't know the composer of "Lady Iris B." [Rudy Stephenson] but it is a saucy blues with a Silver (Horace, that is) twist at its tail. Dex tips his cap to Pres along the way and Freddie is bluessential, as is Barry with Billy "sticking" it to everyone.

Dexter's beautiful ballad "Jodi" was first recorded by him in 1960 on The Resurgence of Dexter Gordon album for Jazzland and dedicated to his then wife. Dex has help from Hubbard and Harris (flashing a Monkish run) but he occupies center stage for the most part in this lovely portrait.

The Resurgence, produced by Cannonball Adderley, marked Dex's first recording in five years. Since that time he has surged and resurged, growing in grandeur with each successive tidal wave.

Like the others, this 1965 breaker is just right for ear-surfing.” 

— IRA GITLER (Jazz; Radio Free Jazz; Swing Journal)

Dan Morgenstern Sessions Notes from the Boxed Set Booklet -

(J) MAY 27,1965

“Back in New York (or rather, New Jersey, site of Rudy Van Gelder's marvelous studio), for a reunion with Freddie Hubbard and Billy Higgins and a first encounter with some other gentlemen of jazz. Pianist Barry Harris, born in

Detroit in 1929, got to play with practically everybody while in the house band at the famous Blue-bird Club, from 1951 on. He came to New York in 1956— the year of the "Detroit wave"—and worked with Max Roach, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley and Coleman Hawkins, also leading his own trios and a quintet with Lonnie Hilyer and Charles McPherson. Bassist Bob Cranshaw, born in Evanston near Chicago in 1932, started piano at 5 and bass in high school, worked in Chicago with pianist Eddie Higgins and his own MJT + 3, came to New York in 1960 with Carmen McRae and began a long association with Sonny Rollins in 1961. Like Harris, he'd been on Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder" session for Blue Note. Ben Tucker, who sits in on one number (his own), was born in Nashville in 1930, spent time in Los Angeles with Warne Marsh, Art Pepper and Chico Hamilton, and worked in New York with Billy Taylor and Herbie Mann; he wrote the hit "Comin' Home Baby," and later became involved in broadcasting.

HANKY PANKY, by Dexter, is a blues march that moves from minor to major and back. The tenor solo opens with a quote from the theme and becomes quite intense—Dexter even growls, a rare event. Hubbard, with strong chops, varies his phrases nicely, and Harris displays his clean, crisp touch, well backed by springy bass and drums.

Ben Tucker's DEVILETTE has its composer sitting in on bass. Dexter sails through his opening solo. Hubbard starts with a held note; his big, burnished trumpet sound is a pleasure to hear. Higgins works out behind him, taking risks but getting away with panache. Harris takes solo honors here with a spare, elegant, Powell-inspired turn, and then the theme, with its distinctive bass pattern, returns, the horns echoing each other. Typical hard-bop-cum-gospel 1960s fare.

Dexter's CLUBHOUSE bears the stamp of Tadd Dameron. Horns in unison, three fine choruses by Dexter, a slightly delayed entry but a good outing that ends as if he'd have liked to continue; two good ones from Harris, who thrives on this harmonic climate; a neat melodic-rhythmic turn by Cranshaw, and a tattoo by Higgins, who trades with the ensemble and adds fills in the ending.

JODI, a lovely Gordon ballad first heard in his 1960 "Resurgence" LP, is mostly tenor, but Hubbard takes the first bridge and Harris the second. Dexter is at his most poetic—languid yet buoyant. The cadenza is topped by a marvelous note.

I'M A FOOL TO WANT YOU, by Joel Herron and Jack Wolf, was written for and introduced by Frank Sinatra (who also contributed to the lyric.) It's a somewhat doleful lament, and Dexter captures that mood. He milks the bridge for all it's worth, tipping his cap to Coltrane. Hubbard's great here, as he picks up where Dexter leaves off, contrasting long notes and rapid flurries. When Dexter returns, he gives us one of his rare growls.

LADY IRIS B, by guitarist-arranger Rudy Stevenson, is one of those "Preacher-ish" pieces of the day. Dexter leads off the solos for three, followed by an equal number from Hubbard, who works well with Higgins here. Harris contributes a Horace Silver-flavored statement (he was briefly a Messenger,) and Cranshaw takes one before the theme recap. This was another session that remained on the shelf until the early '80s. It has its moments, but that special spark seems to be missing.”

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