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L.T.D: Live At the Left Bank

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Album Review

What a gem this previously unearthed spice box is. Who would have thought that in 1969, with a New York pick-up band — comprised of Bobby Timmons on piano, Victor Gaskin on bass, and Percy Brice on drums — long, tall Dexter Gordon could take a classic like "Broadway," which he recorded a near-definitive version of in 1963 on Our Man in Paris, and completely leave it in the dust six long years later? And this is the opening track. While it's not a speeding bullet train, "Broadway" has a fine head of engine steam in its mid-tempo to up-tempo range of post-bop stomp on a Tin Pan Alley standard. While the rhythm section comes loping out of the gate, Gordon takes the solo into a series of intervallic and scalular chord changes that eliminate all but the tune's skeleton. He takes the melody around the block twice and then moves through no less than 11 choruses, almost all in double-time. Timmons, whose right hand was always one of the wonders of the world, does not disappoint here, either. He comps himself while trilling his way into the intricacies of two-handed counterpoint. The blues are always present but he's not afraid of a little dissonance either, as he takes the solo right to the top of the instrument's register and keeps it there. Gordon's "Boston Bernie" was erected from the chords of "All the Things You Are," though its tempo is a bit quicker and the chordal structure for Timmons is both dense and luminous. Gordon's own solo over seven or eight choruses comes out of John Coltrane's blues period, where he had discovered Coleman Hawkins — whom Gordon had as an early influence, so its flighty whisking glide is convoluted yet so beautifully revealing of his lyricism there is no awkwardness. There is a bit of honking and squeaking at the end of his solo, but it was the '60s after all. The remaining two tunes — "In a Sentimental Mood," which is a relatively short ballad (in this set anyway) at just under nine minutes, is all warm, silver-tongued Gordon, with Timmons providing some of the most lush scales and chords of his career through the intervals. Finally, with "Blues Up and Down," there's the full, rounded picture of Gordon in 1969, a musician at the absolute peak of his abilities. His blowing and phrasing turned the form inside out and on its head out of reverence not as a need to reinvent it. His scalular challenges to Timmons are intimidating as hell and the pianist compensates by cutting through and extending chord sequences without changing the phraseology of the tune. Gordon just blows his ass off, digging deep into the feeling of those 12 bars, reaching for anything at all he hasn't unearthed before, and when he finds it, he screams it out of the horn with the shout of an Illinois Jacquet and the tenderness of Lester Young with speed and proficiency of Charlie Parker. Prestige is to be commended for pulling this treasure out of the tape heap and doing a fine job of mastering a less than perfectly recorded performance — though it is more than merely adequate, it's plenty good enough for your stereo or anybody else's. L.T.D. is now an audible and visible part of the history of one of the music's greatest stylists and most enduring hipster personalities.


Born: 27 February 1923 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

Dexter Gordon had such a colorful and eventful life (with three separate comebacks) that his story would make a great Hollywood movie. The top tenor saxophonist to emerge during the bop era and possessor of his own distinctive sound, Gordon sometimes was long-winded and quoted excessively from other songs, but he created a large body of superior work and could battle nearly anyone successfully at a jam session. His first important gig was with Lionel Hampton (1940-1943) although, due to Illinois...
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