Sunday, January 21, 2018

Eric Dolphy - 1960 - Outward Bound

Eric Dolphy 
Outward Bound

01. G.W. 7:54
02. Green Dolphin Street 5:42
03. Les 5:11
04. 245 6:48
05. Glad To Be Unhappy 5:26
06. Miss Toni 5:40

Alto Saxophone, Flute, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – George Tucker
Drums – Roy Haynes
Piano – Jackie Byard
Trumpet – Freddie Hubbard

Recorded in Englewood Cliffs, NJ; April 1, 1960

Outward Bound, Eric Dolphy's first album as a bandleader, is unusual for a jazz debut in that instead of being a showcase for Dolphy's songwriting it instead shines the spotlight one last time on the long-time Mingus sideman's prodigious talents on a number of woodwinds. Though Dolphy composed three of the tracks here, all of them are fairly standard hard bop compositions that serve more as a platform for the band's soloing than the rhythmically complex experiments he would become known for later; the other three tracks, such as the standard "Green Dolphin Street," also seem like they were chosen for their malleability. This, of course, is hardly a problem when you're talking about an instrumentalist as gifted as Dolphy, though, as his flighty solos here already prove he was leagues ahead of the genre trappings of his songs, with ambitions as far out as anything you were likely to hear in jazz in 1960.

Further bolstering this record is the playing of the young and ascendant Freddie Hubbard, one of the only trumpeters ever who could match Dolphy's energy (as becomes immediately apparent on the freewheeling "Les"). Hubbard is also a more intricate player than Dolphy tonally at this point, his horn providing a warmth that Dolphy's occasionally abstract and academic wanderings lack. Hubbard's sessions with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley had prepared him well for playing with a saxophonist of this ability, and it's also interesting to look at his work here as a warm-up for Ornette Coleman's fiery Free Jazz sessions later in the year. Also of special note is the drumming of the great and vastly underrated Roy Haynes, here providing an energetic and precise anchor for the rest of the group and laying down imaginative breaks every time the band drops out. Though bassist George Tucker feels a bit outclassed when he's brought to the forefront here, his interplay with Haynes keeps the record on track whenever Dolphy or Hubbard (or even pianist Jaki Byard on the closer "Miss Toni") really take off, speaking well to the job Haynes does as the de facto leader of the rhythm section.

Though it may feel slight compared to some of his later work, Outward Bound is essential Dolphy not only because it's his debut but also because it's one of the last times the juxtaposition of his avant-garde leanings and hard bop origins is so readily apparent. There's a lot more swing and catchiness to this music than can be found in his more acclaimed work, and as a result it's a much lighter and easily enjoyable listen than most of his records.

Unlike Ornette Coleman—who wanted to blow orthodox jazz form out of the water—John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy initially worked to change the system from within, making music that fit the jazz standards of the time while injecting their own unique spin. This is why Outward Bound, Dolphy's first recording as a leader, is a not-so-distant relative of Coltrane's My Favorite Things (Atlantic, 1960).

On balance, both discs have a conventional base. While Coltrane stuck to the Great American Songbook, Dolphy penned over half the tunes on Outward Bound; even so, those originals mesh perfectly with classics like "On Green Dolphin Street and Charles Greenlea's "Miss Toni. It's the respective opening tracks that separate both discs from the norm. As Coltrane used an innocuous song from The Sound of Music to launch us into space, so does Dolphy use "G.W. to prove Coleman's theory that "you could play sharp or flat in tune. 

A fast 4/4 beat drives borderline-dissonant opening salvos from the front line. While the rest of the band lays down beats and fills that would not be out of place on any bop date, Dolphy steps out of the head to blister us with a mind-boggling, lightning-fingered alto solo that threatens to go over a cliff at any moment. Dolphy and his partners maintain this unorthodox balancing act throughout the 1960 session.

At the time, the bass clarinet was nearly unheard of as a lead instrument, but Dolphy uses it to great atonal effect on the zippy "Miss Toni. It also applies a noir-like patina to the opening of "Green Dolphin Street. Dolphy's flute on Rodgers and Hart's "Glad To Be Unhappy is flat and mournful one second, jumping and dancing (and sometimes screaming) the next, but rarely following a predictable path. Jaki Byard is Dolphy's faithful wingman, contributing Monk-laced lines that stay within "acceptable guidelines while tipping the reality a little bit further out.

George Tucker's foundation on bass is key, rooting the music so the other players can create in space. Roy Haynes displays a range as big as all outdoors, playing drums like a machine gun on the blasting "Les one minute, using brushes like an artist on "Green Dolphin Street the next. Freddie Hubbard's trumpet is as empirical as Dolphy's reedwork is existential; the 21-year old Hubbard's solos (particularly on "Les and the bluesy "245 ) show power and control beyond his years. One wonders what would have happened if he'd stayed with Dolphy and not gone off with Art Blakey.

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