Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Eric Dolphy In Transition

Eric Dolphy (sax, clarinet, flute; b. 1928 d. 1964)
Out There (Prestige, 1960)

The L.A. native, Eric Dolphy, made a number of appearances as sideman before recording his debut Outward Bound (Prestige. 1960), brilliant slice of hard bop with exceptional promise. He had become a multi-instrumentalist, particularly through his improvisational work on the bass clarinet. He worked with both Charles Mingus and John Coltrane whom along with Charlie Parker were huge influences on his compositional work.

Many people, myself included, will site that the ultimate Eric Dolphy album to own is Out To Lunch (Blue Note; 1964) but I also believe that there is an album that marks the origins of what Dolphy would continue to explore for the rest of his career. That album is Out There (Prestige; 1960). Eric Dolphy employed a quartet that was minus a piano player. Instead he chose the legendary Ron Carter (cello), which would result in some of the most memorable interchanges you will ever hear. The quartet also included George Duviveier (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums) whom both add tremendous dimension to the proceedings.

The opening "Out There" is wonderful piece of free jazz in which Dolphy expresses the angular emotion that made his recorded output so unique that he former employer Coltrane would later take note and say that mention that many people missed the beauty in Eric Dolphy's music. A large majority of sessions features Dolphy on clarinet but it is an excellent opportunity for the listener to hear why he was considered one the few musicians to turn the clarinet into an unbelievable improvisational instrument.

On the Charles Mingus penned "Eclipse" Dolphy and Carter connect in one of most hauntingly beautiful ways. The ballad "Sketch Of Melba" illustrates the more melodic bluesier side which Dolphy could turn with ease. The session closes with a drifting and scale jumping "Feathers" in which Carter and Dolphy connect again with an uncanny beauty that would be reminiscent of Monk and Rouse.

Out There is a transitional album--bridging the more standard bop of its predecessor, Outward Bound with the future exploration of free jazz that would later result in the masterpiece of Out To Lunch. The Dali-esque album cover is slightly misleading to the accesible nature of the entire recording. But make no mistake, Out There is an album that stands on its own and should be a must in your music collection. A brilliant album by an artist would be gone all to soon.

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