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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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The Best Of


Blue Note 5099969538520




1. I Was Doing All Right
2. You've Changed
3. Society Red 
4. Landslide
5. Modal Mood
6. I Want More
7. The End of a Love Affair
8. You Said It
9. Blue Gardenia
10. Soul Sister
1. Where Are You?
2. Cheese Cake
3. Love For Sale 
4. The Backbone
5. Soy Califa
6. Our Love Is Here to Stay 
7. Stairway to the Stars 
8. A Night in Tunisia 
9. Tanya 
1. Kong Neptune
2. Hanky Panky 
3. Devilette 
4. Jodi 
5. Lady Iris B 
6. Le Coiffeur
7. Flick of a Trick
8. Shiny Stockings
9. Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)?
Dexter Gordon - Tenor sax
Freddie Hubbard - Trumpet (tracks I/1-3, III/2-5)
Horace Parlan - Piano (tracks I/1-3)
George Tucker - Bass (tracks I/1-3)
Al Harewood - Drums (tracks I/1-3)
Kenny Drew - Piano (tracks I/4-7, II/9, III/1)
Paul Chambers - Bass (tracks I/4-7)
Philly Joe Jones - Drums (tracks I/4-7, 9)
Tommy Turrentine - Trumpet (track I/8)
Sir Charles Thompson - Piano (track I/8)
Al Lucas - Bass (track I/8)
Willie Bobo - Drums (track I/8)
Dave Burns - trumpet (track I/9)
Sonny Clark - Piano (tracks I/9, II/1-5)
Ron Carter - Bass (track I/9)
Sonny Stitt - Tenor sax (track I/10)
Don Patterson - Organ (track I/10)?
Paul Weeden - Guitar (track I/10)
Billy James - Drums (track I/10)
Butch Warren- Bass (tracks II/1-5)
Billy Higgins - Drums (tracks II/1-5, III/2-10)
Bud Powell - Piano (tracks II/6-8)
Pierre Michelot - Bass (tracks II/6-8)
Kenny Clarke - Drums (tracks II/6-8)
Donald Byrd - Trumpet (tracks II/9, III/1)
Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen - Bass (tracks II/9, III/1)
Art Taylor - Drums (tracks II/9, III/1)
Barry Harris - Piano (tracks III/2-10)
Bob Cranshaw - Bass (tracks III/2, 4-10)
Ben Tucker - Bass (track III/3)
Bobby Hutcherson - Vibes (tracks III/6-10)

Dexter Gordon had a good education. He developed his tenor sax style in the bands of such leaders as Lionel Hampton, Billy Eckstine and Tadd Dameron. He was strongly influenced by Lester Young but, in his turn, he influenced such major tenorists as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. So one can only welcome a three-CD compilation entitled "Best of", even though it is only the best of the recordings he made for Blue Note between 1961 and 1965. This means that the collection leaves out important earlier and later work, including his famous tenor duels with Wardell Gray.

Nevertheless, this album substantiates the belief that Dexter was a significant tenorist who somehow combined the dexterity of bebop with the more relaxed style of swing. Every track is a testament to his abilities as a fluent, melodic improviser who often stayed mainly in the middle and lower registers of his instrument. Perhaps he lacked some of the adventurous spirit of Sonny Rollins in the choice of material, as these recordings here capture him playing mostly well-worn tunes from the Great American Songbook, plus some original compositions. Although his tone was not as sweet as that of (say) Stan Getz., he produced a sound which could be mellow as well as biting. And Dexter often reached that pinnacle of the jazzman's art: where an improvisation becomes a new melody in itself.

The 28 tracks here illustrate the main reasons for Dexter's popularity as well as the characteristics which distinguished him as a top-flight saxophonist. Blue Gardenia, for example, is a fine example of his relaxed yet precise playing, while the following Soul Sister exemplifies his down-home qualities with a bouncy waltz which moves into a loping 4/4. Dexter's playing on this latter track also includes some of those quotations with which he salted his solos.

In contrast, his version of Our Love is Here to Stay exhibits his bebop credentials: producing spirited clusters of notes at high speed. And his own compositions - like the bluesy Society Red and the catchy Le Coiffeur - testify to his creativity.

The varied personnels show how comfortable Gordon could be in different  contexts. Such pianists as Kenny Drew, Sonny Clark and Bud Powell contribute refined solos, while drummers like Billy Higgins and Kenny Clarke thrust the music along (notably on Love for Sale and A Night in Tunisia). However, drummer Al Harewood gets on one's nerves with his repetitive clicks on such tracks as I Was Doing All Right.

Another slight annoyance are the sleeve-notes - haltingly translated from French, leading to such sentences as "One may describe the 'Gordon style' as a deep tone gloomy sun, and the Blue Note recordings of this great musician bear witness to special times in the history of jazz". Although Don Patterson is listed as playing the organ on Soul Sister, it sounds more like a piano to me. And why do two of the photos on the sleeve depict Roland Kirk instead of Dexter Gordon?

However, with more than 200 minutes of almost unvaryingly excellent music, this album is well worth getting if you can afford it.

Tony Augarde


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