THOUGH HE'S NOT always ranked with sax icons like Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon was a master of postwar jazz and a key tenor of the bebop era. He particularly influenced Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, while his own body of work practically glows with brilliance. His hard-bop intensity, witty improvisations, rhythmic daring, harmonic savvy, and magnificent tone all contributed to his legend and fueled his popularity when he finally emerged from European exile in the late '70s.
This Squirrel collects four previously unreleased live performances recorded in Copenhagen in June of 1967, at the height of Gordon's creative powers. The band features Kenny Drew's stylish piano-playing and Art Taylor's muscular drumming, with bass support from the young Ro Stief.
As for Gordon, The Squirrel finds him in prime form and particularly pumped. It kicks off with a wild ride through his only known recording of Tad Dameron's title tune, with Dex firing on all cylinders and spewing cascades of tight, frenetic phrases. Occasionally, he eases off the gas to swing in majestic arcs that resound off Taylor's rhythmic drive and Drew's cool, bright, pointillistic piano.
The band then embarks on a blistering 20-minute romp through "Cheese Cake," a Gordon original that's layered with astute diversions from its elegant melody. They finish up with another hard-blowing run, this time through Rollins's bluesy "Sonnymoon For Two," fueled again by Taylor's stormy percussion. In between is a particularly poignant and soulful version of one of Gordon's favorite ballads, "You've Changed," delivered here with a radiating blues glow and palpable emotion.
Truth told, Stief isn't the most inspiring bass player who ever lived, and the band's furious drive periodically hits a pothole. But this is still glorious, vintage Dexter, brimming with the vigor and imagination that made him a member of bop royalty.
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