Daniels' series of albums for GRP in the '80's and '90's, beginning with the aptly titled Breakthrough
, made his reputation as one of the truly great jazz clarinetists of all time. While the content of these releases ran the gamut from bop to fusion, classical to swing, and pop to new age, there was almost always enough substance in Daniels' virtuoso playing alone for even the most discerning and unwavering jazz fan to enjoy.
CD has a somewhat "contemporary jazz" gloss to much of it, but the clarinetist still delivers a memorable version of Mal Waldron's
classic "Soul Eyes," one of those timeless ballads that—like "How Deep is the Ocean," "'Round Midnight," or "Angel Eyes"—jazz musicians never tire of interpreting, and audiences always love to hear. After a shimmering strum from Loeb's guitar, Daniels renders the theme primarily in the chalumeau register, playing with great tenderness and sensitivity, as well as with remarkable technique. Daniels further embellishes the theme as the tempo picks up, while also dramatically entering the upper register for the first time with breathtaking aplomb. His solo employs riffs, repeating circular phrases, bluesy inflections, and enlivening interval leaps, as he also maneuvers his tone from pure warmth to keening outcry. Daniels' replay of the theme is a slow motion gem, complete with an endearingly fluttering bird-like coda. This is simply a perfect track.
If you ask someone to connect Dexter Gordon to a single record label, I’d guess that nine times out of ten, Blue Note is deservedly going to be the label uttered. But perhaps just as rich and rewarding a historical legacy is Gordon’s relationship with Steeplechase, the Danish label with which he recorded countless albums throughout his European sojourn from 1962-1974. Just a quick rundown reveals how much there is to offer—the seven-volume Dexter in Radioland
series documenting his extended run at the famed Montmartre club in 1964, his individual mid-sixties sessions including Loose Walk
and Wee Dot
, and the late 1969 dates that led to the Swiss Nights
The Shadow of Your Smile
is among the first of Gordon’s Steeplechase releases from the 1970s. Supported with a light touch by a Swedish backing band, Gordon is in the mood to play slowly here, and does so exquisitely. “Shadow of Your Smile,” along with his longtime favorite, “You’ve Changed,” are two of the ballads that Gordon played most frequently, and any version you may find speaks to Gordon’s dedication to staying true to the original lyric. On this one, he chooses to embellish that lyric, and later develop his improvisation, with a heightened sense of open rhythmic space. We’re so used to hearing Gordon seem to know exactly where he’s going next that listening to a more speculative, slow-searching statement is an attractive and unique late-career experience.
After some captivating if uncharacteristic experimentation in 1963-64, Gordon returned to his classic sound with Gettin’ Around
, a bebop/hard-bop masterwork which found the saxophonist in absolute top form. Throughout the entire disc, Gordon is still holding onto some of his new darker, moodier concepts while (re)focusing on his logical, straight-ahead solo construction. “Le Coiffer,” “Flick of a Trick,” “Manha de Carnival” and “Shiny Stockings” are all highlights that feature the charming frontline of Gordon’s tenor and Hutcherson’s vibes, supported by an all-star hard-bop rhythm section of Harris, Cranshaw and Higgins. The highlight of highlights from Gettin’ Around
once again reveals itself in ballad form on “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.” While much of the solo space here is reserved for an excellent statement from pianist Harris, Gordon's poignantly improvised statement of the melody is faultless, and comes as close as any track can to fully revealing the dichotomous elements of Gordon’s sound—powerful yet sensitive, insistent yet speculative, improvised yet utterly defined.
Although Gary Thomas is better known for hard-driving improv than for playing classic ballads, on this track he spends more time playing the theme of this wonderful Strayhorn composition than improvising. And he does so as a master stylist, tackling the melody with a tenor timbre that doesn't sound as dark as usual. Pat Metheny supports him on acoustic guitar in a very basic and unsophisticated way, as close to the natural sound of the instrument as possible. This duet remains not only a fine version of a timeless standard, but an unexpected foray out of their usual paths by two great musicians.
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