Most reunions tend to be nostalgia trips. Old friends reminisce, reformed rock bands play their big hits, while former classmates laugh about that time you did that thing. But while iconic jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon held a bit of a reunion during the 1977 concert that’s now available as Espace Cardin 1977 (CD, vinyl), this album is anything but a look backwards.
Recorded September 25, 1977…
at the Espace Pierre Cardin in Paris, France, Espace Cardin 1977 finds Dexter Gordon reteaming with the rhythm section from his classic 1963 studio album Our Man In Paris: drummer Kenny Clarke (with whom he’d also recorded Blues A La Suisse in 1973), and bassist Pierre Michelot. Except that instead of Bud Powell — who played piano on Paris but sadly died in 1966 — the show featured pianist Al Haig, who marks his first appearance on an album with Gordon (and is not to be confused with Ronald Regan’s Secretary Of State).
But while Espace Cardin 1977 may be a reunion of sorts, it’s hardly a nostalgia trip. Especially since they don’t play any of the songs that Gordon, Clarke, and Michelot recorded for Our Man In Paris. Instead, this hour and nine-minute long show had the foursome playing songs that were staples of Gordon’s live shows at the time. Which is why, instead of “Scrapple From The Apple” and “A Night In Tunisia,” Espace Cardin 1977 features “Round Midnight” (which is also on Gordon’s 1976 live album Homecoming: Live At The Village Vanguard), “Body And Soul” (which is on Homecoming as well as Nights At The Keystone: Volume 3, which was recorded in 1978 and ’79), and “Antabus” (which is also on Nights At The Keystone: Volume 1).
Of course, the versions of these songs on Espace Cardin 1977 do not sound like the ones on those other albums. And not just because Homecominghad Gordon playing with a quintet. Thanks to some intricate but also effortless improvisation, half the songs played during this show come in between thirteen and fourteen minutes long, while the other half are around nine, and all as sound fresh and off-the-cuff if said cuff was worn by someone who had a sense of what notes could naturally come next. For instance, “Sticky Wicket,” which opens the album, finds Gordon and pals expanding nearly every aspect of this tune — which, by comparison, was about half as long when Gordon recorded it for his 1968’s studio album More Power! — while “Antabus” is similarly extended when compared to the one on Gordon’s 1975 studio album, The Apartment.
Gordon and company even get a big playful during this set, tossing in some loose bars from “My Favorite Things” into the middle of “A La Modal,” a snippet Julius Fucik’s “Entry Of The Gladiators” — a.k.a. the song they play at every circus — into “Sticky Wicket,” and bits of Miles Davis’ typical show closer “The Theme” towards the end of their take on Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo.” In fact, given the name of the venue and the year this was recorded, it’s surprising they didn’t toss the theme to Star Wars in there somewhere.
There is, however, one thing about Espace Cardin 1977 that’s odder than the clowning around during “Sticky Wicket” (sorry, sorry): the absence of Gordon on the closing number, “‘Round Midnight.” Y’know, his signature song, the one with the title they used for Gordon’s 1986 semi-biographical movie…which he starred in. But it’s only odd in a conceptual way: that Dexter would be M.I.A. during his own show, and at the end, and during his signature tune. Otherwise, though, it showcases the rest of the quartet nicely, as it’s as a pretty, piano-centric rendition of the tune, and not, as you might mistakenly imagine, like Dexter was actually there but someone forgot to turn on his mic during this encore.
While the performances captured on Dexter Gordon’s Espace Cardin 1977 are exceptional, the album also deserves praise for its sound quality. Originally recorded for radio, this may not have the pristine sound you find on such live albums as the aforementioned Homecoming, as it has a slightly airy tone that makes it sound like it was recorded with microphones in the front row of the audience, not right on stage. But that’s okay, the difference is only slight, and one you won’t even notice unless you listen to this on a good stereo. And even then, it’s not worth fretting over…save for in a review.
More importantly, Dexter Gordon’s Espace Cardin 1977 gets extra credit for leaving in Dexter’s introductions, as well as for not fading in and out between songs. It even has Gordon tuning up his sax for a bit at the beginning of “A La Modal.” All of which makes this feel like an uncut live concert, which is what a live album, at its best, should be.
As far as Dexter Gordon’s live catalog is concerned, Espace Cardin 1977 comes in somewhere in the middle. It’s not at the level of Homecoming, Live At Carnegie Hall (recorded in 1978), or what I consider to be both a high point of his career and of jazz itself, The Squirrel (from 1967). But it is on par with the two-fer of L.T.D.: Live At The Left Bank and XXL: Live At The Left Bank (1969) and Dexter Gordon With Junior Mance At Montreux (1970), and slightly better than Both Sides Of Midnight (1967), Body And Soul (1967), Take The ‘A’ Train (1967), and Nights At The Keystone: Volume 1, 2, and 3…though those latter three discs lose more points for being eight different shows mixed together than for the performance or recording quality.
With great sound and an even better performance,
Espace Cardin 1977 is yet another example of why Dexter Gordon is still one of the best jazz musicians of his and everyone else’s generation. And proof that while it’s good to see old friends, it doesn’t always have to be a look backwards.