Dexter Gordon performing at the Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen, in 1964
Dexter Gordon performing at the Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen, in 1964 © Kirsten Malone

The late Dexter Gordon’s voluminous tenor saxophone tone and languid muscular lines were forged in 1940s Californian modern jazz. But narcotics blew his blend of big band jazz, showboating R&B and late-night modernism off course. It took more than a decade for his promise to mature into the commanding presence here captured lighting up Copenhagen’s Jazzhus Montmartre in 1964.

The album is in part based on a telecast of recordings made at the club. Unexpectedly, this first-time release starts with a bass solo fading in. Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, then only 18 and already the go-to bassist for visiting Americans, is impressive, but it is the saxophonist’s swaggering exchanges with house-drummer Alex Riel that stand out.

An oddity comes next, “Big Fat Butterfly”, featuring a rare tongue-in-cheek Dexter Gordon vocal. But the meat of the track, and indeed the album, is unadulterated sax-and-rhythm quartet modern jazz played by a master palpably at ease and playing at the top of his game. The seven songs presented include a sultry bossa reading of “Manhã De Carnival”, an up-tempo blues and the swinging “I Want More”. “Misty” is the ballad, with tenor sax relishing every note, and the album closes with the Gordon original “Cheese Cake” — “the kind you eat” announces the saxophonist.

Album cover of ‘Montmartre 1964’ by Dexter Gordon

The leader’s articulate phrasing and stream of invention never let up and the fluent Catalan pianist Tete Montoliu ripples over a well-crafted rhythm section with equal composure and intelligence.

Around the time this recording was made, Gordon was interviewed in Downbeat, the US jazz magazine — the American had been based in Europe since a 1962 Ronnie Scott’s residency. European audiences are “more discerning” and “dig beneath the surface”, he said, adding “I am very rarely conscious of colour here in Europe. Once in a while, but it’s very rare.”

It was an assessment that encouraged him to remain in Europe for 14 years, regularly delivering relaxed, intense and inventive performances like this.

★★★★☆

Montmartre 1964’ is released by Storyville

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