Monday, October 15, 2018

I'd Love to Turn You On #216 - Dexter Gordon - Go!

Dexter Gordon’s 1962 Blue Note record Go! is the kind of record that you can give to your friends who say they don’t understand jazz and they will love it. Like Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, or Song for My Father by Horace Silver it crosses genre lines and rises into classic territory. It has an energy and a quality to it that make it special. It features Dexter Gordon on the saxophone, Billy Higgins on the drums, Sonny Clark on piano, and Butch Warren on bass.
The first track "Cheese Cake" is a great example of some of the aspects that make this session so special. Billy Higgins is an expert of propulsion, knowing exactly when to switch between nudging with the hi-hat and snare into high gear with the ride cymbal. Sonny Clark provides great harmonic support on the piano with precise and short clustered chord voicings. When Sonny’s solo come around he switches to a single note style that weaves in and out of the changes. Dexter confidently plays the melody and the first solo displaying the sureness and swagger that makes this this record famous. As if the first solo was not enough after Sonny Clark takes his piano solo Dexter comes back for more. His ideas are exact and followed thru logically. Throughout, his improvisations are enabled by flawless technique and a bold tone. He seems to be creating and not just striving to recreate a previous great performance, open to new ideas and genuinely improvising at a master level.
In the next song, "I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry," Dexter explores the sentiment of a ballad without becoming sappy or flashy. The melody is straightforward and heartfelt. Even during the improvisation the melody is never very far away. The ballad seems to be an emotional vehicle, a way to convey feelings and mood rather than a technical showcase. Butch Warren provides excellent harmonic support while Billy Higgins showcases the lost art of drum brushwork. Once again Sonny Clark gives great support for Mr. Gordon until he is called upon to briefly solo over the bridge of the tune.
"Second Balcony Jump" is another midtempo number that starts out in a half time feel by the rhythm section during the melody and then opens up to a 4/4 feel as the soloists start to play. This provides an excellent springboard for the energy when Dexter gets to his solo, moving from a laid back feel to a hard swinging affair. Dexter is surely at his most impressive on this solo. He could be blazing thru hard bop licks, laying on repeated note motifs, or inserting familiar quotes (in this case “Mona Lisa”), and seem at home in his playing style. His solo is followed up by Sonny Clark, and then he trades solo ideas with the able Billy Higgins. The amazing thing about Higgins' drumming is how appropriate everything is to the music. His technique is able, but never overtly flashy. His choices always just feel correct for the music.
Higgins opens the next tune "Love For Sale" with a punchy yet relaxed pseudo-Latin feel. Sonny Clark provides a warm chordal bed for Dexter Gordon to play the melody. The rhythm switches from Latin to straight ahead swing at the bridge providing contrast and energy. In segues such as this you can hear the singularity and purpose that infuses this session. All the transitions are crisp and precise. The group is stylistically united and provides one of the prime examples of what would become known as the Blue Note sound. Dexter plays a blistering solo! He is followed by Sonny Clark on piano, and this is one of his high points on the record as well. Butch Warren ventures his walking bass lines into the higher register to compliment and intensify Clark's solo, while Billy Higgins never fails to keep a steady sense of swing and bounce to the song. That ride cymbal is pure magic, being the engine that that keeps the entire train running.
"Where Are You" is a great interpretation of a jazz ballad. It is unadorned and pure without being overly sweet or sentimental. The solos are relatively short and elegant. It is on a song like this that a listener can hear the magic of the engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Everything has its own sonic space and separation. You can hear the definition and pitch of all the instruments, including the texture of the drums, cymbals, and brushes. He is a fifth member of the band. Rudy Van Gelder records the sounds and captures them on the record for Blue Note, defining the Blue Note sound as much as any of their instrumental artists.
"Three O’Clock in the Morning" starts off with the familiar piano introduction of "If I Were a Bell" from Miles Davis’ arrangement recorded on the Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet record, but then gives way to the song "Three O’Clock in the Morning" - a clever bit of arranging to draw your focus one way before having it redirected back to the material at hand. Once again the rhythm section starts out in half time before perfectly stepping on the gas in unison to support Dexter. The easy swinging solo allows the listener to savor Dexter’s superb note choice and motivic development. Sonny Clark follows with a blues-influenced solo that leads back to Dexter taking a brief solo statement. This leads to the melody and the band plays the song out ending on the "If I Were a Bell" intro.
On the record Go! all the stars are aligning. Dexter and his band are at peak form, playing great songs while informing and crafting a stylistic language. Dexter himself is technically proficient but not playing so much that it is not musical or catchy, which has always been a barrier to jazz for some. Finally you have one of the best engineers of the century, Rudy Van Gelder, capturing the sounds for preservation in an artful and distinctive manner that deserves its own recognition, but that is for a different space. It all combines to make one the best Blue Note classics and a record I Would Love To Turn You On to.
-         Doug Anderson

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