PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Dexter Gordon: Daddy Plays the Horn

It may be unfair to hold being merely very good against Dexter Gordon, but if he has better records, this 1955 one is still a crucial document to understanding Gordon's career and, thus, a vital piece of the history of jazz.


Dexter Gordon

Daddy Plays the Horn

US Release: 2013-08-27
UK Release: 2013-08-26
Label: Bethlehem
Amazon
iTunes

Daddy Plays the Horn was released in 1955 on Bethlehem Records, and is now reissued as part of a campaign to celebrate the key jazz label. But this one is also a particular celebration of Dexter Gordon. If the title seems a bit plainspoken as opposed to, say, A Swingin' Affair, in context it's far more than just a statement of fact. Instead, it's a statement of return, a welcome one for Gordon at the time. In 1955, Gordon was just coming back to life as an artist, having spent much of the previous years battling drug-addiction demons. And so Daddy Plays the Horn is an important document of a revitalized career, one that would bear classic fruit later on.

There's a clear focus on getting Gordon back in the spotlight on this record, as the basic set up for each song is to feature his solos heavily. The structures and tempos don't exactly catch you off guard, but the traditional approach does create room for Gordon to win over audiences that may have forgotten him. And he does just that. The opening title track is a deeply swinging number, one that may have Gordon high in the mix but still gets the whole band working. You can hear Gordon feeling out the space of the track as he goes, his solos rising and falling at will, sounding both expansive and intimate by turns. He juxtaposes nicely with the more hushed delivery of Kenny Drew's piano, which may be quiet but still hits with strength. "Confirmation" picks up the pace a bit and gets Gordon in the groove, but it also shows a tighter cohesion from all the players, especially the vital basslines of Leroy Vinnegar on the track.

Those sides show Gordon getting his fire back, and the band is right there with him. Drew is particularly impressive here. His solo in "Confirmation" is as jumping and exciting as Gordon's horn work, and provides a playful counterpoint. He also drives the hard-stomping closer "You Can Depend on Me" with his unpredictable phrasings and the soft way he creates space before filling it with percussive runs. It's so easy to get lost in the interplay between Gordon and Drew that it's easy to forget the solid foundations provided by Vinnegar and drummer Larry Marable. Both give these songs, especially ballads like "Swinging the Dream: Darn That Dream" an important weight.

The band runs through six varied and solid tunes here, but you never forget whose show it is. This focus on Gordon is of course important in reestablishing his name, but as an album outside of its historical context, it sometimes feels a bit by the numbers. Now, of course, Gordon by the numbers is still inventive and vital, but it's hard not to hold this up to later albums and feel like something is missing. "Autumn in New York", for example, is a bittersweetly shuffling ballad, but the mix that favors Gordon here sometimes drowns out the other plays, making Gordon's playing feel too big for the space, even unmoored. When Drew's piano comes in, it's as if he's been patched in from another song. That's not to say the song doesn't work, but these moments feel more like nascent steps towards later greatness. It may be unfair to hold being merely very good against Dexter Gordon, but if he has better records, this one is still a crucial document to understanding Gordon's career and, thus, a vital piece of the history of jazz.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.