DEXTER GORDON-ONE FLIGHT UP

Dexter Gordon-One Flight Up.

Label: Blue Note Records.

Format: LP.

Not long after Dexter Gordon recorded A Swinging Affair on August the ’29th’ 1962, the thirty-nine year old jazz saxophonist decided to leave New York where he had been living, and moved to Europe. He settled first in the Danish capital Copenhagen, but by May 1963 was living in Paris, France.

Our Man In Paris.

That was where Dexter Gordon recorded his next two albums for Blue Note Records. The first was Our Man In Paris, a quartet recording which took place at CBS Studios, on May the ‘23rd’ 1963. That day, the quartet recorded five standards.

This included Charlie Parker’s Scrapple From The Apple, Ann Ronell’s Willow Weep For Me, Billy Bird, Teddy McRae and Henri Woode’s Broadway, Matty Malneck, Mitchell Parish and Frank Signorelli’s Stairway To The Stars plus Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli’s A Night In Tunisia. These  standards were recorded by a quartet that featured three American expats who had made Paris their home.

The quartet featured drummer Kenny Clarke, Paris-born bassist Pierre Michelot, pianist Bud Powell and tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon. They recorded five standards during the one day session which was produced by Francis Wolff. These tracks would eventually become Our Man In Paris.

Seven months later, in December 1963, Our Man In Paris was released by Blue Note Records to widespread critical acclaim and hailed as one of Dexter Gordon’s finest albums. The highlight was A Night In Tunisia which features one of his finest performances. Fifty-eight years later and Our Man In Paris is now regarded as a hard bop classic and an essential part of a jazz collection. 

One Flight Up.

Six months after the release of Our Man In Paris, Dexter Gordon returned to CBS Studios on the ‘2nd’ of June 1964  to record the followup. By then, he was dividing his time between playing live and working as a sideman. He was enjoying life in Paris but was ready to return to the studio.

This time, only three tracks would be recorded. This includes Donald Byrd’s Tanya, Kenny Drew’s Coppin’ The Haven and Eddie DeLange and Jimmy Van Heusen’s Darn That Dream. They were recorded by a quintet led by Dexter Gordon and produced by Francis Wolff.

For the One Flight Up sessions, the band featured drummer Art Taylor, eighteen year old Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, pianist Kenny Drew, trumpeter Donald Byrd and tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon. This talented quintet recorded the three tracks which became One Flight Up which was released in mid-September 1965.

By then, Dexter Gordon had returned to the studio and recorded two more albums for Blue Note Records at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey during three days in May 1965. The first was Clubhouse which was recorded on May the ‘27th’ 1965 and then Gettin’ Around which was recorded on May the ’28th’ and ’29th’ 1965. Sadly, it was another fourteen years before the albums were released.

Meanwhile, Dexter Gordon must have known that it wasn’t going to be easy to followup an album as good as Our Man In Paris. However, when Blue Note Records released One Flight Up in mid-September 1965 to plaudits and praise. 

By then, Dexter Gordon was an experienced bandleader who was able to spot up-and-coming musicians which he added to his band. This was the case with Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen who joined drummer Art Taylor and Kenny Drew in the rhythm section. The front line featured Dexter Gordon and trumpeter Donald Byrd who wrote the album opener.

This was Tanya, an eighteen minute epic that takes up the first side of One Flight Up. Simplicity is the key on this post bop jam where the quintet enjoy the opportunity to stretch their legs. Soon the arrangement starts to swing and later it features some of the best solos on the album. They come courtesy of the front line. Trumpeter Donald Byrd and Dexter Gordon’s bluesy tenor saxophone steal the show and play a starring role. Meanwhile, drummer Art Taylor and pianist Kenny Drew plays a supporting roles in  what’s nowadays regarded as a jazz classic.

Opening the second side is the Kenny Drew composition Coppin’ The Haven. It’s eleven magnificent minutes of modal minor key modern jazz where Donald Byrd plays a leading role. His trumpet carries the glistening, shimmering melody as the arrangement gently swings as the drums interject. Later, bandleader Dexter Gordon unleashes a spellbinding solo before the baton posses to Kenny Drew. His fingers dance across the piano keyboard as Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen’s bass propels the arrangement along. Soon, the band unite and play as one as they bring this majestic example of modern jazz to a close. 

The ballad Darn That Dream closes One Flight Up. As the tenor saxophone and piano combine with an understated rhythm section. Together they create a late-night smokey sound that’s like a like jazz club late at night. The music may wistful and ruminative but it’s also beautiful and encourages the listener to reflect.

One Flight Up was the second album that Dexter Gordon recorded for Blue Note Records after moving to Paris in 1963. The first was Our Man In Paris which was released to critical acclaim in December 1964. Nine months later Dexter Gordon returned with One Flight Up which was recently reissued by Blue Note Records as part of their Tone Poet series. 

It’s a welcome reissue of an album that’s nowadays, is sometimes underrated and often overlooked in favour of some of including Doin’ Allright, Dexter Calling…, Go, A Swingin’ Affair and Our Man In Paris. They’re some of the best albums that Dexter Gordon recorded for Blue Note Records and feature one of the great tenor saxophonists of his generation. So does One Flight Up.

One Flight Up is an almost flawless album where Dexter Gordon reinvents his music and combines post bop, modal minor key modern jazz and balladry on what was the second chapter in Our Man In Paris’ European adventure.

Dexter Gordon-One Flight Up.

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