In life, trumpeter Woody Shaw and saxophonist Dexter Gordon – two instrumental giants of the jazz idiom – were often connected. They both lived in Europe, (Gordon for 14 years in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and Shaw briefly in 1964), they were friends and frequent collaborators, and their respective recording careers were re-fashioned at Columbia Records by producer Michael Cuscuna. Gordon and Shaw became key voices in the rejuvenation of that label’s jazz division, and yet again both men reunited with ex-Columbia Records president Bruce Lundvall and Cuscuna at the newly reactivated Blue Note label in the mid-‘80s. Among Gordon’s late career highlights is his Oscar-nominated role in the film Round Midnight and the film’s pair of soundtrack albums, Round Midnight and The Other Side of Round Midnight. Shaw, who served as Blue Note’s house trumpeter in the ‘60s, collaborated with Freddie Hubbard on two seminal ‘80s recordings for the storied imprint.
Now this pair of jazz giants, in peak form and backed by crack working bands, can be heard again, on two newly discovered, previously unreleased live performances from Japan: Dexter Gordon Quartet Tokyo 1975 and Woody Shaw Tokyo 1981, released in deluxe-CD and LP editions by Elemental Music.
Gordon and Shaw thrived personally and artistically during their time in Europe. Woody Shaw played with and learned from the great saxophonist Eric Dolphy. During his time in Copenhagen, Dexter Gordon formed a fruitful musical connection with pianist Kenny Drew. At the heart of Dexter Gordon Quartet Tokyo 1975 is that almost telepathic interplay with Drew who moved to the Danish capital in 1964. On this recording, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, the Danish bass prodigy, equally adept at both walking bass-lines and solos, holds down the bass chair. Drew, Pedersen and drummer Alex Riel were the house band at Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen, with Riel later replaced by another American ex-pat Albert “Tootie” Heath. It is this lineup that’s heard on Dexter Gordon Quartet Tokyo 1975. Whatever the lineup, the Jazzhus house band played live and on record many times with not only Gordon but Ben Webster, Johnny Griffin and others.
As famed jazz producer and Elemental Music Consultant Michael Cuscuna states in his liner notes for this package: “Having suffered the perils of being a single on the road for so many decades where out-of-tune pianos and tone-deaf pianists lurk around every corner, Dexter was lucky enough to enjoy the fruits of this great rhythm section for years in Copenhagen.”
Captured at Yubin Chokin Hall on October 1, 1975, Dexter Gordon Quartet Tokyo 1975, Gordon and his quartet play a program that opens with a long version of his favored original “Fried Bananas” and continues on to a pair of well-known standards in Henry Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses” (which Gordon recorded on his 1972 Prestige album, Tangerine) and Erroll Garner’s immortal, “Misty,” which had headed the 1965 Gordon live album of the same name. In glance back to the 1940s, the program continued with the Billy Eckstine-penned “Jelly, Jelly, Jelly,” which Gordon was often known to sing. This package also contains a pair of bonus tracks, the first being a spirited reading, complete with a quote from “Popeye the Sailor” of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-Ning” recorded in Laren, Holland in June 1973 with Drew, Pedersen and drummer Espen Rud behind the kit. The second bonus number, a slow take of “Old Folks” dates from May 1977 in New Haven, Connecticut and features Gordon’s homecoming band with pianist Ronnie Matthews, bassist Stafford James, drummer Louis Hayes and Shaw.
One of the most distinctive and underrated trumpeters in jazz history, Woody Shaw began on the trumpet in high school, reputedly the same month that one of his heroes, Clifford Brown, died in a tragic car accident. First gaining fame as a sideman with Willie Bobo and Eric Dolphy, with whom he made his recording debut on Dolphy’s Iron Man, Shaw moved to Paris in the mid-‘60s, where he crossed paths with Gordon, who he later helped reintroduce to the stateside jazz scene in the mid-‘70s. After returning to the U.S. to play with Horace Silver’s Quintet, Shaw recorded for a variety of labels including Blue Note, Contemporary, Muse and finally Columbia, where in 1978 he recorded Rosewood, an album widely acknowledged as his masterpiece.
Shaw was also a key member of Gordon’s live Homecoming album, which captured Gordon’s first gig at the Village Vanguard after returning to the U.S. in 1977. Active on the jazz scene and as an international ambassador for the music until his untimely death in 1989 at 44, Shaw brought vital new energies to the language of jazz improvisation and uncompromising expression. On Woody Shaw Tokyo 1981, Shaw is joined by his working quintet which was notable for having the unusual textures and tonality of a frontline of Shaw and trombonist Steve Turre, backed by the considerable talents of pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Stafford James and drummer Tony Reedus.
Woody Shaw Tokyo 1981 opens with a stellar rendition of Shaw’s signature tune, the famous 69-bars of “Rosewood,” which is here played at a faster tempo than on the original studio recording. A straight reading of Thelonious Monk’s “`Round Midnight” with gorgeous solos by Shaw and Turre follows. In the ballad “From Moment to Moment,” Shaw shows his softer side and uses his warm, generous tone to its fullest. A swinging reading of Shaw’s waltz “Theme for Maxine,” closes the show. Written for his manager Maxine Gordon, this tune became something of a theme song for Shaw and was a constant presence on his concert set lists. This package also contains a bonus track from a concert of the Paris Reunion Band recorded live in Den Haag, Holland on July 14, 1985. Besides Shaw and Dizzy Reece on trumpet, this ‘80s ensemble of one-time ex-pats included saxophonists Johnny Griffin and Nathan Davis, pianist Kenny Drew, trombonist Slide Hampton, Jimmy Woode on bass and Billy Brooks on drums. Here they dig in on Shaw’s “Sweet Love of Mine,” an oft-covered number, probably best known in versions by Art Pepper and Jackie McLean. This version is highlighted by a heated competition in solos by Shaw, Griffin and Drew and a gorgeous trumpet cadenza by Shaw in the finale.
“Woody Shaw had in mind to contribute something meaningful to the world, something that was the result of his own labor, his own search and life’s journey,” writes his son, Woody Louis Armstrong Shaw III in his liner notes for the package. “For jazz, he felt a deep sense of loyalty and honor, a feeling that fueled his commitment and provided him with the inspiration he needed to turn his musical dreams, however farfetched they may have once been, into a reality that we now get to experience through the music he left behind.”
Instantly essential, these two sets document two of the towering figures in jazz history playing at their peak, and as such Dexter Gordon Quartet Tokyo 1975 and Woody Shaw Tokyo 1981 are invaluable additions to the recorded legacies of both these irreplaceable jazz visionaries. Maxine Gordon summarizes in her liner note to the Gordon package:
“Jazz fans the world over love discoveries of previously unreleased gems, hidden in storage rooms and vaults, unmarked and covered with dust. Elemental is finding a way to share these treasures with us. They are remastering often overlooked musical events and repackaging them to look as beautiful as the music sounds.”
Dexter Gordon Quartet Tokyo 1975 & Woody Shaw Tokyo 1981
Elemental Music · Release Date: July 13, 2018