Dexter Gordon: The Tower of Power

Prestige Records/ Universal Music; CD; Rs. 295

Dexter Gordon (1923-1990) was in Billy Eckstine's big band in the early 1940s when that outfit had among its members two of the founders of be-bop, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He naturally became the first tenor saxophonist to espouse the new genre of jazz, going on to become one of the leading lights of its successor, hard bop.

This 1969 recording finds Gordon in terrific form leading a quartet comprising Barry Harris on piano, Buster Williams on bass and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums, with the recently deceased James Moody joining them on tenor sax for the first track, “Montmartre”. The album has some 36 minutes of music, and Gordon wrote three of its four tracks, the first, “Montmartre”, being one of his most famous compositions. After a drum solo intro, he and Moody take the lead on its theme, alternating passages having Moody on the left and Gordon on the right. Gordon and Moody take the first and second solos, followed by Harris and Williams. Drum solo passages alternate with the theme at the end. Both tenorists put plenty of power and emotion into their tenor sax work, and they're backed well by Harris and Williams.

“Montmartre” is brisk, faster than the other three numbers, which are either medium-paced or slow-medium.

Gordon takes the lead on the theme on all three and then solos, with piano and bass solos following. Exchanges between Gordon and Heath on one track and a bass solo intro on another introduce further variety. The last track, the slow-medium “Those Were the Days” composed by Gene Raskin and a big pop hit in the 1960s, was based on a classic Russian/ Ukrainian folk song from the turn of the last century. Gordon's version has longish passages at the beginning and end on which he renders the melody without a beat, is permeated with more wistful longing than the pop version without falling into sentimentality.

Gordon stays on the right throughout the album, balancing nicely the rest of his quartet who're grouped towards the left (as is Moody on the first track). There's a lovely soulful quality to the music, and particularly Gordon's work.

Joe Henderson: Mode for Joe (Rudy Van Gelder Edition)

Blue Note/ Virgin Records; CD; Rs. 295

Joe Henderson (1937-2001) was one of the leading tenor saxophonists in the hard bop style of jazz from the 1960s to the beginning of this century.

We met him recently in these columns under the leadership of the trumpeter Lee Morgan, and on this 1966 album Morgan returns the favour. Curtis Fuller on trombone, Bobby Hutcherson on vibraphone, Cedar Walton on piano, Ron Carter on bass, all leaders on their instruments for the last half-century, and Joe Chambers on drums join Henderson and Morgan to make this a sonically rich septet for a very satisfying album.

Seven tracks, including an alternative take of Walton's “Black”, make up nearly 50 minutes of playing time, the title track being also written by Walton and “Free Wheelin'” by Morgan, the leader having composed the rest. “Granted” is fast-paced, “Free Wheelin'” in medium tempo and all the rest brisk. All offer brilliant solos by Henderson and Morgan, followed on some tracks by Walton and on the others by Fuller and Hutcherson, all usually in that order, while only “Granted” has solos by all these five and, for good measure, Carter too.

Hutcherson's beautifully melodic instrument, entirely absent on “A Shade of Jade”, doesn't figure in the solos on “Black” although it is quite prominent in the theme of that number.

He's also prominent alternating with Henderson on the theme of “Mode for Joe”, which has the only other solo by Carter on the album.

Carter also steps forward for a couple of intros, and is otherwise very strong in support, as is Chambers. Chambers's only solo on the album appears on what might arguably be the most rhythmic number, “Caribbean Fire Dance”, developing out of a dialogue with the ensemble and then yielding place to the final statement of the theme by the ensemble.

“Granted”, with its fast pace and solos by several musicians, and “Caribbean Fire Dance” are the most action-packed tracks, while the title track and “Mode for Joe” pip them for sheer musical beauty.