Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Dec. 10, 2004
Dexter GordonThe Complete Prestige Recordings (Prestige)
At 6 feet 6 inches, saxophonist Dexter Gordon was a big man with a huge sound who left an enormous legacy for the jazz world to treasure. It's, therefore, only fitting that it requires an 11-CD set (88 tracks, 17 previously unissued) to document his work for just this one record label. Although spanning the period from 1950-73, The Complete Prestige Recordings largely concentrates on 1969-73, a time when Gordon was still an expatriate living in Copenhagen. The plentiful work all over Europe and relaxed continental lifestyle allowed Gordon to flourish musically. His playing here, whether on a full-throttle bop standard, a loping blues, or a sensuous ballad is wonderfully vibrant and unequivocally masterful. It had been 25 years since he burst on the scene as the first to translate the new language of bebop to the tenor sax, greatly influencing the next generation of players, which included Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Of most interest to Austinites is the lone 1960 session, "Resurgence," which features trumpeter Martin Banks, then a young L.A. colleague of Gordon's, who blows splendidly in the saxman's fast company. In keeping with Gordon's tradition of swashbuckling tenor sax battles with the likes of Teddy Edwards and Johnny Griffin, this box set features several different matchups. The set's opening track, the bop chestnut "Move," is taken from an exciting 1950 club gig under the leadership of his most accomplished sparring partner from their days on L.A.'s Central Ave., the dashing Wardell Gray. This cutting session ends in a draw, but Gordon's sharp wit, flawless technique, and relentless torrent of ideas are no match for his former Billy Eckstine bandmate Gene Ammons or for James Moody or Texas tenor strongman Booker Ervin. The plentiful live recordings included here, several from the Montreux Jazz Festivals of the early Seventies, showcase Gordon near the peak of his powers, blowing long inventive solos bursting with endless vitality. On consecutive performances of "The Panther," it's easy to hear the difference in energy level and crispness on the live date. A penchant for quoting familiar tunes while in midflight is much in evidence as well. His reputation as a premier balladeer is solidified by this set. The Complete Prestige Recordings may not provide the concentrated brilliance or perceived cachet of his complete Blue Note box set of several years ago, but there's more than enough superlative playing here to satisfy any Dexter Gordon fan.