Dexter Gordon: Fried Bananas
Dexter Gordon (tenor sax)
Homecoming: Live At The Village Vanguard (Columbia C2K 46824)
Composed by Dexter Gordon.
Recorded: live at the Village Vanguard, New York, December 1976
Rating: 90/100 (learn more)
After being cast against everyone's advice, Dexter Gordon was nominated for a "Best Actor" Oscar for his performance in Bertrand Tavernier's 1986 film Round Midnight. It was the story of Dale Turner, an expatriate American jazzman loosely based on Bud Powell and Lester Young, who finds more acceptance in Europe than in his own country. Despite a new life with less racism and more promise, the character is a helpless alcoholic who cannot be saved from his addictions no matter how much anyone cares.
In real life Dexter Gordon also had a drug problem and dealt with racism. He went to France in 1962 and did not return to New York for good until 1976. Acknowledged by this time as one of the great bebop saxophonists, his return was an event of some magnitude among jazz fans. After getting a few gigs under his belt, Gordon played a week's return engagement at the Village Vanguard, where recording equipment was set up for his "homecoming."
"Fried Bananas" is a bonus cut on this two-CD set and did not appear on the original album. It is not the strongest of compositions, but the musicianship mostly makes up for any weakness in melodic structure. Gordon was perhaps at the height of his powers in 1976. The same can be said for trumpeter Woody Shaw, the remarkable but ultimately tragic figure who joined Dexter's band upon Gordon's return from Europe. (This was really Louis Hayes's group with Gordon added.) The musical simpatico between Gordon and Shaw is an absolute wonder. Drummer Hayes is a man possessed as he leads the rhythmic charge. Gordon takes an extended and provocative solo, characteristically throwing in a barely recognizable popular quote here and there. He is followed by Shaw's fine turn. Fantastic playing! Shaw remains one of the most underappreciated jazz musicians ever. The impressive force that dominated much of what Dexter played around this time might be called "power-bebop." This band was a killing unit. Sadly, as I write these words 32 years after the recording; it has been just a few days since the death of pianist Ronnie Mathews, who also contributed an engaging solo to this piece.
Many have called Round Midnight the greatest of all jazz films. It says volumes about the attitude in the USA toward jazz that it was not produced by an American. Gordon's acting was excellent. There was some outstanding music played as well. But in the end, to me, it was just another downer jazz movie. I wish someone would make an uplifting jazz movie for a change.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky