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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

GO to your record store and pick this up!

Dexter Gordon’s “Go” (Blue Note LP 4112) is one of my favorite jazz recordings. GO is a recording of a standard jazz jam by four "cats" that took place on August 27, 1962 in New York. The cats? Dexter Gordon on the tenor saxophone, Sonny Clark on piano, Butch Warren on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums.

At the time of this recording Dexter Gordon was about to turn 40. He had spent most of the 1950s battling drug addiction instead of recording but by the early 1960s he was clean and newly signed to Blue Note Records and his initial blue notes, including the appropriately titled “Doing Allright” had reestablished him. However, GO, the third of his six original blue notes, would become his crowning achievement.

On this recording Dexter was paired with pianist Sonny Clark who would die within a year of this recording at the age of 31 from drugs. Sonny Clark had led his own Blue Note dates including the wonderful “Cool Struttin’.” His contributions to hard bop jazz and this recording in particular cannot be overstated and his premature death was a tremendous blow to jazz. Sonny Clark’s piano style is elegant and the phrase “tinkling the ivories” is particularly apt. His playing is crisp and light and sometimes seems to float. The interplay between Dexter and Sonny is what elevates GO to desert island status. Their playing on GO is extremely self assured and confident while at the same time improvisational. They are supported on GO by the extremely competent and experienced rhythm section of Billy Higgins and Butch Warren who played together on a great number of classic blue notes.

Upon putting on GO the first impression is that Dexter Gordon’s tenor saxophone tone is easily distinguishable and recognizable. To quote Marc Greilsander’s review on “He possesses an enormous tone, yet he never overwhelms the song or the listener.” The record begins with the wonderful Dexter Gordon composition “Cheesecake” on which Dexter blows almost nonstop. The next track, “I Guess I’ll hang my tears out to dry” showcases Dexter’s excellence on ballads on which he is supremely romantic. His lyrical playing oozes complete control and confidence. Dexter Gordon’s playing is not free jazz. One has no trouble following the melody and you can almost hear his sax singing the words. This song includes some wonderful brushes by Billy Higgins.

GO is a classic hard bop swinging album and “Second Balcony Jump” returns to the swinging fold with a fun vibe. On this track Dexter really soars when he lets loose although he restrains his tone. Sonny Clark throws in a nice tease before plunging into his solo. The song conveys unbridled joy and Sonny Clark and Dexter conclude by playing in unison with some nice drums thrown in for good measure at a climactic end. The fourth song, another swinger, “Love for Sale” written by Cole Porter took me a while to appreciate. I was very familiar with the Miles Davis/Cannonball Adderley version on another classic Blue Note date: “Somethin’ Else.” This version features some nice comping by Sonny and some great interplay with Dexter Gordon eliciting responses from Sonny (at about 3 minutes 45 seconds into the song). Dexter Gordon throws in an unbelievable “La Cucaracha” (i.e., “Mexican Hat Dance”) quote at about 6:15.

The next track, “Where are you” is a ballad featuring some beautiful bass plucking by Butch Warren and Dexter sounds positively joyous at about 3:30. This gives way to the soaring, and in my opinion highlight track among highlights, “Three O’clock in the Morning” which has got to be one of the happiest jazz songs this listener has ever heard. Dexter just flies and throws in the kitchen sink with a “Take me out to the ballgame” quote at 4:38. As Greilsaner points out “He’s always quick with a humorous quote, yet it always seems to fit just right.” Dexter Gordon’s tone on this number is warm and happy and borders on ecstatic at times.

I can’t get enough of music like this and if you have not heard this session I urge you to rush to your nearest record store and pick it up.

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