Friday, December 04, 2009

Dexter Gordon - Homecoming: Live at the Village Vanguard (Columbia, 1977)

Robert Palmer's liner notes describe the rapturous response that tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon received upon his return from Europe where he had lived for many years. Lines at the Vanguard spilled out into the street and Gordon was the hottest ticket in town. With good reason: Dexter was in crackling form, spinning improvisations on bop, blues and ballads as well as he ever had. The band he appropriated was extraordinary too: straw-boss Woody Shaw on trumpet, Ronnie Matthews on piano, Stafford James on bass and Louis Haynes on drums provide ample support and inspiration for the creation of some wonderful music. Jimmy Heath's composition "Gingerbread Boy" opens the album at a very high speed, Gordon and Shaw both take solos like race car drivers on a daredevil course. Haynes is the key here, his agile drumming provides the propulsion the soloists need to reach for the stratosphere. Shaw was as fine a composer as he was a trumpeter, and his "Little Red's Fantasy" follows at a more stately tempo, Shaw and Gordon intertwining on the sinuous melody before Gordon digs in and spools out a fine lengthy solo. Speaking the lyrics to set the pace, "It's You Or No One" has a hard charging melody, pushed by elastic bass and drums. Gordon's horn takes on a sharper, acidic tone, and it suits the performance well. Always a great ballad player, Dexter's patience suits him well on Thelonious Monk's epochal "Round Midnight." This song would become the title of a moving starring Gordon, making him (even more) famous, and it's clear that he has an affinity for the tune. "Fried Bananas" is classic Dexter, driving through the melody and subsequent improvisation like he is at the wheel of a fine touring sedan. The tenor's delight "Body and Soul" wraps up the album with a majestic performance, closing the proceedings with style and grace. It's surprising that Columbia or Mosaic haven't released more music from Gordon's run at the Vanguard. Everything on these two CD's is stellar, and the music is crying out for a remastering with bonus material. One for the wish list. Homecoming: Live at the Village Vanguard -

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