Reviewed on this page:
Out There - Far Cry - Live At The Five Spot, Part 1 - Berlin Concerts - The Illinois Concert - Iron Man - Out To Lunch - Last Date
When you consider that jazzman Eric Dolphy played out-of-favor instruments like bass clarinet and flute, played weird stuff (larded with dizzying leaps and dissonance) on them, and died suddenly in his mid-thirties - before the free jazz movement really got going - with just a handful of releases under his own name, you might not expect him to be remembered at all. But he made a dramatic impact during his brief career, playing highly visible sideman roles with Charlie Mingus and John Coltrane, as well as putting down some classic recordings which were breakthroughs at the time and remain just as meaningful today. Like both those leaders, Dolphy's experimentation was rooted in a strong sense of jazz tradition, especially - if paradoxically - the tradition of seeking new frontiers. Dolphy's technical mastery of clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax and flute is stunning, both in terms of tone and dexterity.
Jeez, sometimes I sound like such a stuffy, stuck-up bore.
What I'm really trying to say is that Dolphy's music is fresh, fascinating and fun, and that listening to him play bass clarinet I felt for the first time that I was hearing it the way it was meant to sound.
Hot & Cool Latin (1959)
Recorded at the end of Dolphy's tenure with Chico Hamilton, the track list includes such old-fangled fare as "Night In Tunisia" and "I Got Rhythm."
Outward Bound (1960)
With Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Jaki Byard (piano), George Tucker (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums).
Around this time, Dolphy began playing with Charlie Mingus, an association which would continue off and on for the rest of his life.
Out There (1960)
A quartet with no piano; Ron Carter is on cello, and Dolphy himself is on his usual panoply of instruments: alto sax, flute, clarinet and bass clarinet.
Carter was originally a classical cello player who switched to jazz
because of the racism of the classical orchestra scene, and he's
thoroughly in control of his instrument as well: he has some
difficulty figuring out his role on the title tune, spewing bop
clichés, but he comes up with imaginative,
lovely solos on others ("Serene").
The compositions are built on late bop changes, with clever, tricky melodies ("The Baron") - not an introduction to Dolphy as avante-garde pioneer, but a fine set of jazz tunes.
Far Cry (Eric Dolphy with Booker Little: 1960)
A quintet with Byard, Carter and Haynes backing trumpeter Little and Dolphy (on alto, bass clarinet and flute).
Most of the compositions are squarely in the bop tradition ("Miss Ann," with machine-gun riffing), but Dolphy's stretching against the boundaries: the standard "Tenderly" features Dolphy on alto and nobody else, a rarity at the time, and his extended flute duel with Little on Byard's "Ode To Charlie Parker" wasn't common in small-combo jazz of the day either. Not to mention the dissonance intertwining lines of the title track (one of two by Dolphy).
So while it's a transitional work foreshadowing greater achievements, there's also a lot to enjoy if you just take it at face value.
My CD issue contains a remake of "Serene" as a bonus track.
Live At The Five Spot, Part 1 (1961)
Not a commercial property during his lifetime, Dolphy
often had to record under tight conditions with whatever musicians were available, which is one reason his catalog is spotty.
Here, three LPs were pulled from one live date, and I'm guessing the best material is on the other volumes. None of the three extended tunes is up to standard: Mal Waldron's "Fire Waltz" is one of many post-"My Favorite Things" fast 3/4 numbers, not noteworthy otherwise.
Booker Little's "Bee Vamp" is a rudimentary tune, but crisp soloing - particularly Dolphy on bass clarinet - puts it over. And the leader's sidelong "The Prophet" wanders insufferably; Waldron's pensive solo is intriguing, but doesn't suit the mood.
Live! At The Five Spot, Volume 2 (1961)
Two side-long tunes: Little's "Aggression" and the Van Heusen standard "Like Someone In Love."
Memorial Album (rec. 1961)
Really Live! At The Five Spot, Volume 3, as it's drawn from the same sessions.
Berlin Concerts (rec. 1961)
Recorded in August 1961 with a pickup band - Benny Bailey, trumpet; Pepsi Auer, piano; George Joyner, bass; Buster Smith, drums - and there's not much to
listen for aside from Dolphy's startling technique. The set list is largely standards ("I'll Remember April"; ) with a couple from the leader (the wild,
dissonant "Geewee"; "The Meeting"). Dolphy strips down to drums and bass for the hi-speed "Hi-Fly" - on which he plays technically daunting but conceptually
conventional flute - and Benny Carter's "When The Lights Are Low," where he explores odd tones at both extremes of the bass clarinet's range.
More disappointing is his solo rendition of Billie Holiday's "God Bless The Child," obscuring the tune with a fusilade of showy runs on bass clarinet.
Bailey adds some unusual textures; Auer has a fair melodic sense but no dynamic or rhythmic variety, so all his solos seem longer than they are.
Here And There (1961)
Five tracks pulled from three different dates, with a solo bass clarinet rendition of "God Bless The Child" and a run through "Don't Blame Me."
In late 1961 Dolphy spent some time playing with John Coltrane, where he started exploring "in the cracks" notes and extramusical sounds.
Other Aspects (rec. 1960-1962, rel. 1985)
A collection of experimental works including the extended vocal piece "Jim Crow" and "Improvisations and Tukras," with tamboura and tabla.
The Illinois Concert (1963)
Includes familiar material like "God Bless The Child," "G.W." and a brief slice of "Something Sweet, Something Tender," plus a pre-release version of "Iron Man." Then there's "The Red Planet," which is credited to Dolphy here though when the same tune was recorded by Coltrane (twice, as "Miles' Mode" and "Mars") it was credited to him.
The band is Herbie Hancock (piano), Eddie Khan (bass) and J.C. Moses (drums), and oddly, Hancock doesn't add much - if even he can't figure out how to fit into Dolphy's music, it makes sense that Dolphy made so many piano-less records.
The twenty-minute version of "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" is a revelation - inspiring and moving, abstract and expressive, experimental and visceral - and that alone makes the record worth hearing. Otherwise, the virtuosity can be stunning and the tunes are high quality but nothing you can't hear on any other Dolphy recording.
Iron Man (1963)
Another pianoless ensemble but a larger one than usual, with Khan and Moses joined by Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Woody Shaw Jr. (trumpet), Clifford Jordan (soprano sax), Huey Simons (alto sax) and Prince Lasha (flute). The horns add welcome density to Dolphy's arcane explorations ("Mandrake") as well as variety to the soloing.
In addition to the unsettling, powerful title track, material includes a re-recording of "Ode To Charlie Parker" (stripped down to flute and bass), plus a drumless version of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday" that's a great example of Dolphy staying true to a song's emotional core even as he changes its form. "Burning Spear" often threatens to boil over into chaos - appropriately enough - but stern taskmaster Moses keeps the others in a groove.
Much as I hate to give Alan Douglas (who produced) any credit, this is a fine testament to Dolphy's many talents.
Also produced by Douglas; three lengthy pieces and an unaccompanied performance of the standard "Love Me."
Out To Lunch (1964)
Dolphy is in total command here, as composer, player and bandleader.
Another piano-less album, with Richard Davis on bass, Hubbard on trumpet and
Tony Williams on drums, plus Hutcherson, whose
light, idiosyncratic (not to say demented) touch on vibes contributes to the
general feeling of freedom that never quite boils over into anarchy.
The tunes - all by Dolphy - are intricate, surprising and swinging,
often in odd meters, but once the theme's been stated, all structure
disappears, with nothing but the collective feeling of the musicians
holding the tune together. It's the way you hope avant-garde will be
but almost never is; Dolphy focuses less on his extraordinary soloing and more on
shepherding the group - Williams and Hutcherson improvise continuously -
and together they achieve a remarkable diversity of emotion, from the strut of
"Hat And Beard" (a tribute to Thelonious Monk)
to the edginess of "Straight Up And Down" to the aptly-titled "Something
Sweet, Something Tender." (DBW)
Last Date (1964)
Not really, but it was one of the last recorded dates before Dolphy died of a sudden diabetic coma in Europe, with a pickup band: Misha Mengelberg (piano), Jacques Schols (bass), and Han Bennink (drums). As usual, there are jazz standards (Monk's "Epistrophy"), pop standards ("You Don't Know What Love Is," with Dolphy on flute) and originals ("Miss Ann," which Dolphy subjects to creative destruction).
It's always worth noting Dolphy's sidemen, particularly because his work is always up to the same high standard (no sign of illness audible) - Schols stands out with a swinging solo on "Epistrophy," while Mengelberg gets his shot on "South Street Exit."
There are relatively few live Dolphy documents and every one's of interest, but this date isn't especially illuminating and need not be toward the top of your shopping list; the same tracks are now collected on a double-CD, The Complete Last Recordings: In Hilversum & Paris 1964, which I'd obviously recommend more highly other things being equal.