The Resurgence of
This 1960 album was intended to signal a comeback after Dexter’s long periods of convalescence during the ‘50s, and it preceded his more celebrated albums of the ‘60s. It finds his playing balanced between that of the Lester Young inspired cutting-contest master he had been in the ‘40s and ‘50s, and the more distinctive, gravelly-toned and slightly Coltrane-influenced mid-period Dexter style. The very distinctive and memorable compositions definitely hark back to the ‘50s, as do the other soloists, but Dexter is looking forward, and plays with a drive, melodic inventiveness, and technical mastery that he rarely equalled.
Our Man in Paris
This quartet session with Bud Powell on piano and Kenny Clarke on drums, is essentially bop, as the personnel would lead you to expect, and the selection of numbers is very conventional. The surprises are the exceptionally creative soloing and the high level of intensity. Dexter tries endless new ideas, sometimes sounding genuinely stretched, and ends up wailing at the top of the instrument uncharacteristically often, while Bud frequently sounds like his old amazing self, even if he was technically slightly off the boil by this time. The results aren’t always tidy and the group sound is raw and ragged, but there is certainly no slacking on this album; it doesn’t sound as if Clarke would allow it.
Dexter plays great, as usual, there are some burning and typically harmonically sophisticated solos from Woody Shaw on trumpet, but the main attraction is singer Eddie Jefferson squawking up a storm on ‘Diggin’ in’ and to a lesser extent ‘It’s only a paper moon’; I never tire of hearing these tracks. Despite many years of listening to ‘Diggin’ in’, I’m still not sure what he’s saying, though. It was a great revelation to me when I realised it was ‘Chuck Berry’, rather than ‘Chuckle Barry’ who ‘happened on the scene’, but is the line really ‘those were the days when I could shake my end and could always pattin’ my feet’? And what’s the ‘rospect of musical history’? And what is he saying about the ‘kids on Trafalgar Square’ exactly?
The Chase (with Gene Ammons)
This 1970 version of ‘The Chase’ is a remake of Dexter’s duel with Wardell Gray in 1952 (included in this list on a Gray compilation), which is one of the most exciting recordings ever made. By this time, Dexter had a heavier tone and a more deliberate-sounding, measured delivery than before, and his new opponent Gene Ammons, who always possessed a distinctive, thick sound, had somehow managed to make it even denser and punchier: so this is a real battle of the heavyweights. This live recording has a great atmosphere throughout, with the obscure Vi Redd contributing an explosive vocal on ‘Lonesome Lover Blues’.
Swiss Nights, vol. 3
There are loads of brilliant live European club dates from Dexter’s late period, making it hard to choose between them, but I spend so much time listening to this stuff that at least one had to make the list. This won through because Dexter and virtuoso bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pederson were on particularly good form that night, and I particularly like ‘Rhythm-a-ning’ and ‘Jelly Jelly’. The former is a perfect demonstration of Dexter’s mature playing, which I once heard described as like a boulder rolling down an incline: there is a certain unstoppable inevitability, although it can lurch unexpectably to one side or the other. The latter has a rare vocal by Dexter, and his booming voice, with a strong vibrato kicking in on the finish, is uncannily reminiscent of his tenor playing. The song itself is mean too: ‘jelly roll killed my Papa, drove my Mama stone-blind’!