Dexter Gordon (tenor sax) entered the 1970s -- as well as his career's quarter-century mark -- on a definite upstroke with the sly, sexy -- and above else -- stylish platter The Panther! (1970). Gordon commands a quartet whose membership boasts luminaries Tommy Flanagan (piano), Larry Ridley (bass), and Alan Dawson (drums). Remarkably -- or perhaps simply a testament to Gordon and company's prowess -- the album's half-dozen sides all hail from a single early July 1970 get-together. The material is divided between outstanding interpretations of the Great American Songbook classic "Body and Soul," the Mel Tormé co-penned seasonal standard "The Christmas Song" aka "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire," Clifford Brown's "Blues Walk," and a trio of Gordon originals. The project gets underway on the exceptional title track "The Panther." The loose and syncopated midtempo groove provides a decorous yet jaunty backdrop for the tenor to mold his soulful trademark leads.Flanagan counters with his own spirited rounds behind Ridley and Dawson's mesmerizing rhythm. Comparably sublime -- and the unquestionable highlight of the entire outing -- is the cordially emotive "Body and Soul." Gordon oozes a sensuality that is aimed straight for the heart as he manipulates the melody into a singular inspiration. As before, Flanagan's light mellifluous touch is sublime in this context. "Valse Robin" is a playful waltz that is dedicated to Gordon's daughter under a warm, almost assuaging timbre. By contrast, Gordon's "Mrs. Miniver" is extroverted, bearing a refined swinging beat with both the tenor and the pianist rising to the occasion. Not to be missed is the cozy intimacy of "The Christmas Song" as his horn unfurls an affection that has rarely been equaled. The Panther! concludes with a frisky reading of "Blues Walk" that -- in deference to the name -- trots along at a brisk pace. The bandleader takes full advantage as he lets loose with a flurry of activity propelled by his hearty and vigorous command of the combo. Nowhere can that be experienced more aptly than when Gordon, Ridley, and Dawson go full steam and head-to-head as Flanagan briefly relinquishes the reigns. Those who are interested in hearing alternates of "The Panther," "Valse Robin," "Mrs. Miniver," and "Blues Walk" from the same mammoth session are encouraged to check out Gordon's 11-CD Complete Prestige Recordings (2004) box set -- containing a total of 17 previously unreleased cuts among its total of 88.
The Panther! Review
by Lindsay Planer