Friday, January 26, 2018

Eric Dolphy - 1978 - Berlin Concerts

Eric Dolphy 
Berlin Concerts

01. Hot House 19:04
02. When Lights Are Low 13:20
03. Geewee 2:36
04. God Bless The Child 3:15
05. Hi-Fly 14:55
06. The Meeting 5:25
07. I'll Remember April 13:00

Bass – George Joyner
Drums – Buster Smith
Flute, Bass Clarinet, Alto Saxophone – Eric Dolphy
Piano – Pepsi Auer
Trumpet – Benny Bailey

Recorded by SWF facilities.
August 30th, 1961

There's little question that Dolphy's time on the planet was too short, and the number of performances captured with tapes rolling too few, so that almost everything in the Dolphy catalog is kind of special. In 1961, Dolphy was recorded more extensively while on tour, whether stateside for the immortal Five Spot stint in July with Booker Little and co., or later in Europe for the Copenhagen and then Stockholm tours in September, or here for the "Berlin Concerts" in August (oh yeah, and don't forget the Village Vanguard dates with Coltrane in November). You can hardly argue the greatness of the Five Spot pairings with Little and bandmates Mal Waldron, Richard Davis, and Ed Blackwell -- and it's true that able sideman support was lacking for the European concerts, with most of the critical nod going to the Copenhagen run (recorded as the three-volume "In Europe" series on OJC). But the Berlin Concerts are under-rated and in the abbreviated Dolphy bag, well worth owning!

So, what do we have here? "Berlin Concerts" was taken from two gigs at the Funkturn Exhibition Hall and the Club "Jazz Salon" in Berlin on August 30, 1961 and features Dolphy with what even the liner notes describe as the "very straight-forward rhythm section" of drummer Buster Smith, bassist Jamil Nasser, pianist Pepsi Auer, and trumpeter Benny Bailey. And, unlike the scandalously short-shrifted 30+ minutes of music on each of the OJC "In Europe" discs (why the heck doesn't OJC re-release this with some consolidated packaging!?), everything's sandwiched together here for over 70 minutes of live Dolphy doing some extended blowing on all three of his virtuoso horns (flute, alto sax, bass clarinet).

The first track has Dolphy on alto sax, playing some clearly Parker-esque runs on Tadd Dameron's "Hot House," even going so far as throw in Bird's "Pop the Weasel" quote in the intro. Both Bailey and Auer are given generous solo space in the middle of this 20-minute number before Dolphy returns for a vigorous exchange in the end. It's clear that he's speaking a more advanced language here, as it is on the rest of the album. Track two has Dolphy on bass clarinet, doing the familiar "When the Lights Are Low" sans piano or trumpet. The pace is a bit slower than the first track, but alone in the spotlight, Dolphy gets into some of his more trademark explorations on what I consider his signature instrument. He's a little off-mike here, but it's pretty great stuff nonetheless, though near the end, he sounds a little haphazard. Track 3 is a tight group exploration of Dolphy's own "Geewee" -- this time recorded at the noticeably more spacious and therefore airy sounding Funkturm. The group plays the theme, Dolphy blisters through his solo on alto, Auer takes a brief one, and the group returns together before concluding at 2:47. Track 4 is the requisite bass clarinet solo version of "God Bless the Child," again sounding echo-ey in the concert hall and maybe just a little rushed (I concede it's true that the Copenhagen and even Illinois Concert versions are a bit better), but that's not to say that this isn't some pretty radical stuff for 1961 (bass clarinet solo!?). Track 5 finds Dolphy on flute for another trio number, this time on the 15-minute "Hi-fly." Joyner solos on bass in the middle, but the rest has Dolphy playing the kind of pretty but complex lines that critics compared to birdsong and without piano and trumpet intruding, his voice is really out there in the open. Pretty fantastic. The last two tracks see a return of the quintet with Dolphy on alto, first with Dolphy's "The Meeting" (played at languid pace, with sequential solos by Dolphy, Bailey, and Auer) and then with the 13-minute "I'll Remember April" in which Dolpy rips through his solo, perhaps leading to Bailey finally matching him this time with a nice horn solo to follow.

Okay, so maybe the Five Spot dates, "Out to Lunch" or "Last Date" would be the place to start for Dolphy, and maybe "Berlin Concerts" is marred by a less-able band (I find myself kind of wishing they'd just finish already when they're soloing -- it's not that they're bad, it's just not special in any way when you're wanting to hear the bearded one) and some airy-sounding acoustics on the Funkturn numbers, but this is a mean concert that features a little bit of everything and Dolphy's in pretty excellent form. And at over 70 minutes of music, with Dolphy on flute, alto, and bass clari, I just can't understand why "Berlin Concerts" doesn't enjoy wider release and acclaim. By comparison, the early OJC studio dates (Outward Bound, Out there, etc.) are pretty sedate, much of the latter day large ensemble stuff (Candid, Ironman) is just a different kind of sound, and until the "In Europe" stuff get's repackaged (if it ever does), I'd say this a great live date to own.

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