Unearthed Shaw and Gordon Albums Reveal New Layers of Genius

Trumpeter Woody Shaw and saxophonist Dexter Gordon may have belonged to separate chapters in jazz history — Gordon was an icon of the ’50s and early ’60s, while Shaw hit his stride during the ’70s and ’80s — but what the two musicians shared was the role of game-changer.

Dexter Gordon (Photo: Courtesy Elemental Music)

Gordon’s influence on contemporary jazz is indisputable. He was one of the first tenor saxophonists to embrace the language of bebop for his instrument, and in the process created an aesthetic template that would go on to influence future sax legends such as John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Shaw, meanwhile, introduced a new harmonic vocabulary into the jazz trumpet conversation, and his angular, intervallic sound would come to define small-group jazz for much of the 20th century.

Aside from the outsize influence on the direction of jazz, the two musicians shared a personal history as well. Both lived in Europe for a time — Gordon for 14 years in the ’60s and ’70s, Shaw for a year in 1964 — and both played key roles in the rejuvenation of Columbia Records’ jazz division during the 1970s. Shaw and Gordon even recorded together for the saxophonist’s live album Homecoming, recorded in 1977 at the Village Vanguard.

Woody Shaw (Photo: Courtesy Elemental Music)

Now, jazz fans have yet another reason to link the legacies of Gordon and Shaw, courtesy of a pair of previously unreleased albums made newly available by Elemental Music. Released July 13, Dexter Gordon Quartet 1975 and Woody Shaw Tokyo 1981 feature live performances from each artist while on tour in Japan (and in the case of the Shaw album, some additional bonus material recorded in Paris in 1985). The two recordings provide listeners with the opportunity to hear Shaw and Gordon in peak form, separately and together. 

Captured at Yubin Chokin Hall on October 1, 1975, Dexter Gordon Quartet Tokyo 1975, features Gordon’s homecoming band with pianist Ronnie Matthews, bassist Stafford James, drummer Louis Hayes and Shaw playing through relaxed, open-ended standards and originals with unflagging energy and combustible interplay. Their take on the Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer classic “Days Of Wine and Roses” is illustrative of the group’s close cohesion and copious penchant for swing. The song begins with a spark, Hayes’ skittering across the toms as James’ bass explores the upper reaches of its range. Gordon, espousing the melody, sounds forthright yet inviting; his stylistic adornments add new dimensions to the familiar melody. Bass, piano and drums each get a turn in the solo spotlight, but it’s Gordon who steals the show, sounding regal as he unfurls flawlessly crafted melodic cells atop the rhythm section’s shifting grooves. Listen to an exclusive stream via the player below:

On Woody Shaw Tokyo 1981, Shaw is joined by a working quartet featuring trombonist Steve Turre, pianist Mulgrew Miller and drummer Tony Reedus (Stafford James occupies the bass chair in this ensemble as well). The ensemble powers through tunes such as Shaw’s “Rosewood” and “Theme for Maxine” with an agility that belies the music’s heft, and Shaw’s solos take the chord changes to their harmonic extremes. Their take on “Apex,” a scathing original by pianist Miller, is noteworthy for its breakneck tempo and white-knuckle melody. Shaw and Turre take exceptional solo turns, then engage in some spitfire crosstalk at the song’s conclusion. JAZZIZ has an exclusive stream below:

“Jazz fans the world over love discoveries of previously unreleased gems,” said Maxine Gordon, the saxophonist’s widow and former manager, in the liner notes of the Gordon package. “Hidden in storage rooms and vaults, unmarked and covered with dust. Elemental is finding a way to share these treasures with us. They are remastering often overlooked musical events and repackaging them to look as beautiful as the music sounds.”

For more information on Elemental Music, visit the label’s website.

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