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One Flight Up (1964)

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Donald Byrd

When he expatriated to Scandinavia just before this session in Paris was recorded, Dexter Gordon said he was liberated in many ways, as a jazz musician and as a human being. This is reflected in the lengthy track on this album, a testament to that newly found freedom, addressing the restrictions the American music scene placed on artists to do the two- to three-minute hit. With the nearly 18-minute "Tanya" and the 11-minute "Coppin' the Haven," Gordon and his quintet, featuring trumpeter Donald Byrd, were able to jam at length with no thought of being edited, and they fully prolong their instrumental remarks in a way few other musicians -- jazz or otherwise -- would allow themselves. Yes, it would be difficult to hear these tracks on the radio, but the tradeoff was a listening experience for their fans that would also showcase a rare commodity in the lexicon of their style of post-bop mainstream jazz -- consistency. The simple, sweet, and lightly swinging "Tanya" has become a classic song, and it is a staple in most saxophonists' diets, even though the supportive chord structures from pianist Kenny Drew and Byrd's up-front brass are more attractive or noticeable than Gordon's bluesy tenor. Memorable for many reasons, Drew's brilliant composition "Coppin' the Haven" is textbook modern jazz, a modal minor-key delight as Byrd again dominates with a shining, gliding melody tacked on to an easy swing that exemplifies the song form for jazz in its best sense. Gordon steps up apart from the trumpeter on the great ballad "Darn That Dream," and is at his best, wringing every regretful emotion out of his horn as only he can. The CD version contains the bonus track "Kong Neptune" sans Byrd, a good swinger that cops from no other influences, merging the mythical strengths of the two creatures in its title via Gordon's muscular, lithe, and athletic on-land and at-sea horn. At around 47 substantive minutes of music, One Flight Up stands as a testament to Dexter Gordon's viability as a bandleader and teammate, while his individualism is somewhat sublimated. It's a good listen to digest all the way through, especially if you are as patient as the performers, who have a lot to say. ~ Michael G. Nastos