Dexter Gordon’s “Doin’ Allright” Reissued For Blue Note’s 80th Anniversary

Following a turbulent decade battling personal demons in the 1950s, tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon had mostly faded from the jazz scene by the end of that decade; after all, he only recorded three sessions (two of which he led) in the second half of it. By 1961, however, he began a successful relationship with Blue Note that commenced that year with Doin’ Allright. The Los Angeles-native moved back to New York City for the third time, got rediscovered by jazz listeners, and led a quintet on this album that included Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Horace Parlan on piano, George Tucker on Bass, and Al Harewood on drums.

Doin’ Allright is mostly made up of melodic renditions of the era’s pop standards, including George and Ira Gershwin’s “I Was Doing All Right,” Bill Carey and Carl Fischer’s “You’ve Changed,” and Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s “It’s You Or No One.” Its most interesting moments, however, are Gordon’s two originals, “For Regulars Only” and “Society Red.” The former features a swinging mid-tempo rhythm and a particularly compelling solo from Freddie Hubbard, while “Society Red,” the longest song on here at 12 minutes, features solos from Gordon, Hubbard, Parlan, and a refreshing bass solo courtesy of George Tucker. Generally, Doin’ Allright is a solid record that can just as easily be dissected as it can be pleasantly played in the background, which is one of its several strengths.

I compared this new all-analog Blue Note 80 reissue cut by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio to the 2009 Music Matters Jazz 45rpm edition mastered by Gray and Steve Hoffman at AcousTech Mastering. While RTI plated and pressed the MMJ 45, they only plated the BN80 which Optimal pressed. Since Gray’s cutting electronics and cabling at Cohearent are a significant improvement over that of AcousTech, this new 33rpm Blue Note 80 reissue far surpasses in many ways the Music Matters 45. What the BN80 mainly does best is offer greater transparency, lifting the proverbial veil from this recording. For example, the MMJ has Al Harewood’s drums panned hard right, and while they reverberate in that specific space, the sound is still mostly stuck there. On this new reissue however, Harewood’s drums reverberate across the entire soundstage despite the main feed being stuck in one channel. Further, it sounds more as if Gordon and Hubbard are playing together as opposed to Gordon’s tenor sax occasionally drowning out Hubbard on the 45 (albeit not surprisingly; Hoffman is known to spotlight the leading instrument when EQ’ing jazz records). Further, the Optimal-pressed record is quiet, flat, and arrived without a blemish (the only issue was the mediocre sandpaper inner sleeve).

Does this new Blue Note 33 fail in any way? The bass solo on “Society Red” is deeper and lower on the MMJ 45 than on the BN80 33, but the latter makes it sound more like a bass and less like low notes played on an instrument. MMJ’s sleeve construction is top notch of course, with session photos adorning the inside gatefold. Blue Note’s reissue on the other hand comes in a standard weight direct-to-board foldover sleeve, but it’s acceptable given the low $25 list price. However, I have a feeling that the 80th anniversary sleeve is a redesign of the original artwork. First, the type that says “Dexter Gordon” on the front is magenta on the reissue, while the Music Matters artwork more accurately recreated with the original jacket as guidance has red-orange type. In addition, Ira Gitler’s liner notes seemed retyped on the 80th, as the typeface isn’t as bold and introduces a new typo (“78rmp” instead of “78rpm”). Lastly on this subject, the bottom text that says “for complete catalog, write to BLUE NOTE RECORDS INC., 43 West 61st St., New York 23” is removed in favor of the UMe copyright info taking up all of the bottom space. Still, the image clarity of the BN80’s jacket is far better than that of Music Matters’ front and back replications. All in all, this reissue is a success for Blue Note in terms of quality at a great price point, and I look forward to the rest of this excellent and affordable series.

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Tom L's picture

Gordon had a great knack for making music that is complex enough for jazz addicts but accessible enough for the general public to enjoy. This LP is a fine example. My copy is a reissue from 1972 and sounds OK, clearly not as good as the reviewed albums. Looking it up on Discogs I see that 36 versions have been issued!

Rashers's picture

Great review Malachi. I bought both this and the BN 80 Herbie Hancock release "Takin' Off." The Dexter Gordon record is truly fantastic - as good as any of the Music Matters 33rpm releases. I found the Herbie Hancock record a little disappointing in comparison: it did not sound as good on my system as the 24/192 high res version released a few years ago (may be a poor pressing).
It's a pity that Universal didn't spend an extra 5c on a plastic lined inner sleeve - and add an insert describing the historic value and setting of the album.
On the major plus side - this is AAA vinyl produced in Europe which means that, for those of us who live there, we can buy them at a reasonable price.

MalachiLui's picture

I agree with you regarding the cheap sandpaper inner sleeve. I recently got the new 3LP expanded reissue of Stereolab's "Mars Audiac Quintet," digitally remastered, packaged in a gatefold jacket, and pressed at Optimal on standard weight vinyl. It came in poly-lined inner sleeves, and only cost $30. UMe's Dexter Gordon reissue lists for $25 (I got mine from Amazon for $23) and it comes in a foldover jacket and sandpaper inner sleeve. While the Dexter reissue is great value as an AAA LP for a very affordable price, the Stereolab reissue really shows how much value for money you can give the customer.

AnalogJ's picture

Given your thoughts about the specificity of the bass as it goes lower, I wonder if this may be an issue with the Rega Planar 3 table? I haven't heard one in a while, but extreme low end frequently pitch and tonal specificity is not its strength.

As you go up the line in turntables, low frequencies get better, more naturally rendered.

bkinthebk's picture

If he was having an issue with bass then his ability to decipher differences between the two masterings is a minor miracle.

Given your thoughts about the specificity of not having heard the reviewer’s turntable, it’s odd that you seem to enjoy criticizing his setup so often. As you go up the line in logical thinking, your comments here will surely be more naturally rendered.

Please buy the kid a new ‘table already so we can finally be free of these pedantic posts about the invalidity of his opinion due to your perceived notion of his gear.

MalachiLui's picture

While I respect AnalogJ's opinion, I disagree with him often. He says that he hasn't heard a Planar 3 in a while, but Rega has remade the turntable several times over the last decade. If it's been more than three years since he heard a P3, then the last P3 he heard was an inferior one. And plus, my speakers don't go all the way down to 20Hz and I'm okay with that. I don't really need it. I am perfectly happy with my system and turntable especially, and I don't feel that complaining about a reviewer's system (and therefore opinion) is necessary.

MikeT's picture

The fact that Mike Fremer allows you to post reviews on his site, means regardless of your equipment he trusts what you hear. Keep up the good work.

OldschoolE's picture

He doesn't know what he is talking about. Turntables themselves have nothing to do with frequency response. That is mostly the speakers and add in the amp and phono cart in this case. Even if you were running a plastic turntable, you would hear deeper lows if your speakers, amp and/or cart were capable.
If one is happy with their system and it gets one engaged with the music, then that is all that matters.

One can do album reviews with the least of systems, even headphones. One just needs to know what to listen for depending on what one is after. I will admit it is a little easier with a full-range system, but the same ideas still apply and if your system engages you and you enjoy then it's already more than good enough.

AnalogJ's picture

You're not informed if you think frequency response is not affected by turntables and tonearms. Part of what a turntable does is to make sure that certain frequencies don't affect what the cartridge sees. If there is some frequency where feedback gets through to the cartridge, then frequency response will be affected. And that goes for the ability to reproduce at the frequency extremes.

If you read lots of reviews of turntables, you'll see not only the ability of a table to play dynamics, but the ability of a table as to how it plays back bass response (in terms of pitch, timing, and tautness), as well as how it portrays the top end.

There's LOTS of what the Rega tables do right. I love them, and I think the Planar 3 is a hell of a bargain. It really portrays the gestalt of a recording. But it's rendering of details isn't as strong as strong as, say, a VPI Prime.

I have little doubt that the newer Planar models are better than the older ones. But if a Planar 3 currently is as good as a P8, why would Rega bother to sell the latter?

bkinthebk's picture

You’ve made known this quasi fable opinion of ML’s Rega ‘table. At this point it’s a bit loco, futile and rude. Please do us a favor and let it go, dude. Hey! buy the kid a ‘table that has the imprimatur of your anal labels. Or shall we continue to expect this pedantic ranting and whingy rechanting? At least debate his actual opinion instead of this red herring kabuki of useless bougie dookie.

DFacobbre's picture

Amazon threw mine into a box without any fill; it arrived banged up and bruised. New one on the way.

DFacobbre's picture

I'll second those who wish for poly rather than the sandpaper sleeve, it's perhaps better to tear that sleeve open than pulling the record out; but yeah this is a beautiful AAA pressing and only $22.99 at Amazon; mine was free since they messed up my reorder.

Mudfoot's picture

Excellent review!
Regarding the artwork recreations, I just heard a podcast with Michael Cuscuna onTheVinyl Guide and he discusses what has survived and what no longer exists in the Blue Note vaults. Most of the raw photo negatives still exist, as well as some of the frontcover color separations,but none of the type-sets do as they were too bulky to transport, so they were discarded in the early 70’s when Liberty records moved the label’s collection from New York to California.
Thankfully the recreated artwork is not limited to scans of original lp covers like most record labels have to do these days. I’m just thankful that there are people that are passionate and care about these reissues at BlueNote. It could very easily not exist at all.


Bob Henneberger's picture

These users that are knocking this kids turntable need brain transplants . A rega p3 is a nice table and pretty soon ,, being that he is best buddies with Fremer will probably have a high end table at a very discounted price......So keep slinging mud ,pretty soon this kid will have a system only you could dream about........