Sunday, January 21, 2018

Eric Dolphy - 1961 - At The Five Spot

Eric Dolphy 
At The Five Spot 

01. Fire Waltz
02. Bee Vamp
03. The Prophet

Alto Saxophone, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – Richard Davis
Drums – Ed Blackwell
Piano – Mal Waldron
Trumpet – Booker Little

Recorded July 16, 1961.

After having left the ensemble of Charles Mingus and upon working with John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy formed a short-lived but potent quintet with trumpeter Booker Little, who would pass away three months after this recording. Despite all of the obstacles and subsequent tragedy, this quintet became legendary over the years -- justifiably so -- and developed into a role model for all progressive jazz combos to come. The combined power of Dolphy and Little -- exploring overt but in retrospect not excessive dissonance and atonality -- made them a target for critics but admired among the burgeoning progressive post-bop scene. With the always stunning shadings of pianist Mal Waldron, the classical-cum-daring bass playing of Richard Davis, and the colorful drumming of alchemistic Ed Blackwell, there was no stopping this group. Live at the legendary Five Spot Café in New York City, this band set the Apple, and the entire jazz world on their collective ears. "Fire Waltz" demonstrates perfectly how the bonfire burns from inside the soul of these five brilliant provocateurs, as Dolphy's sour alto and Little's dour trumpet signify their new thing. Dolphy's solo is positively furious, while Blackwell nimbly switches up sounds within the steady 3/4 beat. "Bee Vamp" does not buzz so much as it roars in hard bop trim. A heavy tandem line breaks and separates in the horn parts like booster rockets. Blackwell is even more amazing, and Dolphy's ribald bass clarinet set standards that still influences players of the instrument. Where "The Prophet" is a puckery blues, it is also open armed with minor phrasings and stretched harmonics. This is where Waldron and Davis shine in their terra cotta facades of roughly hewn accompaniments to Dolphy and Little's bold flavored statements. A shorter alternate take of "Bee Vamp" is newly available, shorter by two-and-a-half minutes and with a clipped introductory melody. Most hail this first volume, and a second companion album from the same sessions, as music that changed the jazz world as much as Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane's innovative excursions of the same era. All forward thinking and challenged listeners need to own these epic club dates.

Eric Dolphy - 1961 - Out There

Eric Dolphy 
Out There

01. Out There
02. Serene
03. The Baron
04. Eclipse
05. 17 West
06. Sketch Of Melba
07. Feathers

Alto Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet [Bb], Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – George Duvivier
Cello – Ron Carter
Drums – Roy Haynes

Recorded in New York City; August 15, 1960.

Eric Dolphy's first two albums as a leader could not be better named: while his debut, Outward Bound,  feels like a transitional album in the way it juxtaposes the hard bop styles he played under the tutelage of Chico Hamilton and Charles Mingus with his more avant-garde leanings in the solos, by Out There he’s completely gone to those latter conceits, delivering a record that’s as odd and unsettling as anything jazz ever produced. Even the lineup is weird – he’s maintained the great Roy Haynes on drums, but upgraded to George Duvivier on bass and brought in Ron Carter on cello on top of that. That isn't the lineup for one or two tracks – no, that's the configuration he builds a whole album around, penning four originals (one co-written with Mingus) and re-working compositions from Mingus, Hale Smith, and Randy Weston for this very strange band.

The opening, title track, the co-composition with Mingus, is a really exciting piece because in it you can so clearly hear the styles of Dolphy and his mentor coexisting beautifully, the rhythm section’s manic energy and forward momentum pure Charlie and the winding, intricate solos that Dolphy, Carter and Duvivier trade off undeniably Eric. It’s an exciting start, but the tonal experiments don’t really come in hard until “Serene,” a dark and sultry number that features a number of flights of fancy but mostly swoons in appreciation of its own deep sound: this is the song where Dolphy's bass clarinet makes its first appearance on the record, and suddenly all the action’s on the low end except when Eric wants Haynes to take the lead. That bass clarinet actually opens “The Baron” harmonizing with Carter's cello before giving way to a solo for the string instrument that’s all nervous energy, then taking the reins once again for its own showcase in which Dolphy pushes the instrument near its highest registers.

Opening the second side is the Mingus composition, “Eclipse,” here a pure tonal experiment that eases the listener back into the surreal atmosphere cultivated by the A’s final two tracks. It bleeds seamlessly into “17 West,” which plays for much of its running time like a trio piece featuring Dolphy on flute that’s only intermittently accented by Carter's cello. Then, without warning, the flute drops out completely and gives both Carter and Duvivier a chance to show off over Haynes’s muted skin-tickling; then, we get a brief drum solo and the whole band kicks back in for a reprise of the theme that bears only a passing similarity to anything we've heard before. It’s probably the most daring thing on the album, even if it’s not the most in-your-face track, and as if sensing that we slip immediately into something more low key, the slow and sensual “Sketches of Melba.” Dolphy's on clarinet for this one, and the track features some of the warmest playing of his career on top of some really brooding work from Carter. The closer, “Feathers” finds Dolphy back on alto delivering a mournful performance, Haynes riding his cymbals and Duvivier moaning to enhance the atmosphere while Carter hits the listener with staccato stabs that feel like a nightmare just barely encroaching onto reality. After just a minute or two of this, though, the band tightens up and Carter disappears to give Dolphy room to really soar, and what really strikes you about his solo is not only (again) his warmth, but the way his blowing is just filling out the sound in the studio (props to Rudy Van Gelder for that). Before you know it, though, it’s over, and whatever melancholy dream had arrested you has suddenly disappeared – and if you’re like me, the only thing you can think to do is flip the record again and start from the beginning.

Y'know those times when you're so tired that you drift in and out of dreams without even being aware that you're asleep? That's called microsleep, apparently. Out There is the soundtrack for a night of recurring microsleep. Especially if it's one of those nights when you have to walk a long way home and you're far past being merely 'sleepy' — it's the point in the night when you start to get jumpy and things are getting trippier by the second. White mod dining room, spindly-limbed chairs under spindly-limbed people. Black tutus in bird formations. Namsayin?

To get a bit more literal for a sec, this is one of those rare 'off the beaten path' jazz albums that's as fun to listen to as it is bizarre and surreal. Which is weird, because it's certainly more unsettling than any jazz quartet album I've heard from the early '60s — even the aggressively avant-garde ones. Even the lead cut, a Dolphy original that begins like one of those movies that surprises you by starting mid-scene, seems to be keeping some very different moods on the same stage; when Ron Carter's cello joins and starts whirring into a bee-like buzzing, it's like the movie's cutting back and forth between a lively party and an upstairs bedroom where a tormented guest is brooding and struggling with themselves. Listen to how Dolphy feels like he's wiggling all over the place when he's actually just staying around the same midrange phrase (excepting the brief and occasional lightbulb-flash leap): he keeps you off-balance from the get-go; it feels like you're rapidly being shown a bunch of things behind a bunch of different curtains, each revealing something more strange than the last but with no time to think back on what you just saw. "Out There", the composition, is indicative of the album's precarious balance between tranquility and brooding unease.

...And of the musicianship, which simply owns, my friends; all four players are going out on personal limbs with this album. As much as Carter's cello playing can be eerie (the title cut; the gorgeous low end of "Eclipse") or more conventionally, classically harmonic ("17 West"; the ghoulish last third of "Sketch of Melba") he consistently sounds like a rather charming eccentric no matter how somber the mood. "The Baron", for instance, is a tribute to (and gibe at) Charles Mingus, and Carter in particular nails the man's scribbly frustration and snappiness as well as his periods of lethargy. Drummer Roy Haynes, who worked with Monk on some of his best late-'50s albums, is a consistent knockout — his lightly brushed gallop on the title cut, if you focus on it, can seem maddening at first but very quickly becomes surprisingly, almost illogically entertaining; it's almost as if he's tricking you with a 'Now you see me, now you don't' routine...except he's in plain view the whole time. How does he do that? As for George Duvivier, a more conventional blues player, he basically just keeps up with the rest of 'em on side one, only to come totally out of left field on the B with some truly fascinating flights of fancy. Listen hard to the last minute of "17 West" and you'll hear him take up what sounds like a series of six-note arpeggios, or luxuriate in his guitar-like strums in "Feathers" that make the ending of the album such a beautiful one. (Seriously, those last 20 seconds are absolutely wonderful.)

Dolphy, meanwhile, is Dolphy. Meaning that you don't know what you're gonna get from moment to moment — even when he's being outwardly melodic. His bass clarinet playing in "Serene", itself a fairly conventional blues number (you can tell — Duvivier sounds more at-ease right away), feels like a young kid talking to himself in the sandbox in breathless, unpredictable blurts and whines and goofy rants. (Soon followed by Carter's solo that acts as the slightly more patient kid on the other side of the sandbox, minding his own business and listening until he gets to say his piece. And listen for 1:21, when they all decide to tease you with a more tonal and rooted melody before stirring around in frigid spurts.) The aforementioned soloing in "Out There" feels like clutching your head and rolling in your seat, knowing you need to stand up but realizing you're not ready for it as you crumple back onto the couch again and again. His chortling high flute notes on "17 West" are quite lyrical indeed - almost like the chorus of a Peggy Lee song or something - which mixes intriguingly with Carter's anxious tritone sway. And "Eclipse", a Mingus tune, is turned into a cinematic brooder — it's like watching clouds pass slowly over the moon, with Dolphy eventually warbling like an old woman singing some long-forgotten folk song as she blows out the lamps; like the part in a classic film noir where things are just starting to feel a bit askew.

Sure, some of Dolphy's more light-handed runs may cross the line into generic Bird imitation. And with the more conventional melodies (especially "Sketch of Melba") it can occasionally feel like the band are being a little too self-consciously slinky for their own good. (It's like they're calling attention to the fact that they're weirding-up a pretty tune, instead of treating it with a more subtle regularity.) But those are about the only quibbles I have for this album, which has no weak cuts and a few outright great ones; this is jazz chamber music at its most lively and visionary. If you don't believe me, listen to the bass chords at 2:02 of "Feathers", whereupon Dolphy turns into a bartender offering up one last round to the regulars...who promptly snap out of their spacey stupors and say 'sure.' Sleep, now? Ah, there's always tomorrow night.

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.

Oliver Nelson - 1961 - The Blues and the Abstract Truth

Oliver Nelson
The Blues and the Abstract Truth

01. Stolen Moments 8:45
02. Hoe Down 4:43
03. Cascades 5:30
04. Yearnin' 6:20
05. Butch And Butch 4:35
06. Teenie's Blues 6:31

Alto Saxophone, Flute – Eric Dolphy
Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone – Oliver Nelson
Baritone Saxophone – George Barrow
Bass – Paul Chambers
Drums – Roy Haynes
Piano – Bill Evans
Trumpet – Freddie Hubbard

Recorded 23 February, 1961.

Sort of a State of the Jazz Union Address for 1961 - along with My Favorite Things, Africa / Brass, Olé Coltrane (Coltrane was a real mover and shaker, after all), and Mosaic, it gives you a great idea of just what was happening in the genre in the early '60s, where the shift towards radical expressionism the genre would undertake later was just starting to take hold. Eric Dolphy and Max Roach threw down the gauntlet with their avant-garde manifestos - the playful Free Jazz and the intense We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite, respectively, but what Trane, Blakey, and Nelson were doing was channeling this fiery, more avant-garde approach in a manner more acceptable to the average jazz fan of the time - easing people into the revolution, as it were.

Me? I love both approaches. Whether it was the highly experimental approaches to the genre that the likes of Coleman and Roach were already on and Coltrane was moving towards pretty rapidly (Africa / Brass is some of the most intense early '60s jazz you're gonna get), or the traditional but forward-thinking attitude of the Blakeys and Nelsons of the world, this was a fruitful period for the genre. Now, as a dyed in the wool fan of free, avant-garde, and generally experimental jazz, I will admit that I do lean towards the more exploratory styling of the Coltranes, Roaches, and Colemans of this world than the more traditional ones of guys like Oliver Nelson here, but the thing about transitional works is that they tend to be pretty rich. 

Because make no mistake - Nelson had some avant-garde ideas here. The "Abstract Truth" part of the title was no accident - it is not quite as abstract as The Shape of Jazz to Come, but on some songs here, the band (which hey whaddayaknow includes a guy named Eric Dolphy who might be of interest to you avant-garde jazz fans in the audience) messes around with the rules. Or breaks every single one of them, in the case of the atonal "Hoe-Down." That one basically tells the idea of jazz being pleasant dinner party music to fuck off and is a lot more interesting as a result, while "Cascades" flips back and forth between traditional hard bop (in the solos) and tossing a mind-bogglingly fast group of intricately layered notes that bounce from perfect harmony to clashing and crashing up against each other the way Dolphy and Coltrane later would during their landmark Village Vanguard dates. I am sorry I keep bringing Coltrane into a review that has nothing to do with him, but his influence seems to loom large over the proceedings here - "Cascades" in particular has a lot in common with Giant Steps as far as its melody goes, the notes just tumbling out. 

But in other moments, this is blues, plain and simple. And you know? He does the blues as well as he does the abstract truth. Take "Stolen Moments," far and away the most famous song on the album and one of the best jazz songs of the '60s. It is centered around an unforgettable melody, which is in turn focused on those same basic rules of harmony that Kind of Blue laid out. And it makes a pretty strong case for something that had quickly become a well-established jazz tradition despite only being two years old at the time - "Stolen Moments" is the masterpiece of the album, and it can definitely go toe to toe with anything off Kind of Blue except "Flamenco Sketches." It is seriously that good, people. Along with "The Sidewinder," "So What," and "Moanin'," it is the sort of jazz song that knows of nothing but swag, this kick-ass embodiment of smoky cool, with Freddie Hubbard leading the band down the road to Pimptopia. "Yearnin'" cannot hope to beat "Stolen Moments" at its own game, but it has that same "walking around town like you own the place" atmosphere, and on top of that, an interesting solo from Dolph where he pushes this sort of thing as far into experimental territory as it had ever been pushed.

The last two songs present odd cases, not fitting well into either category. "Butch and Butch" might seem like traditional bop at first, but unless you're listening to Blakey - and honestly, you have no excuse NOT to be listening to Blakey - you probably are not going to find anyone playing it this hard, and you are certainly not going to hear the kind of badass atonal wackiness Dolphy threw into his solo on any of Blakey's records - I cannot think of any saxophonist who looked at the instrument quite like Dolphy did, and since my attempts to explain it would probably prove fruitless, I am going to toss recommendations for Out to Lunch and Iron Man your way instead. "Teenie's Blues," the closer, is just as odd - I cannot help but think of Thelonious Monk stricken by a bad case of paranoia when I hear that melody, and as you would expect, Dolphy's solo is jarring and delightful, playing a fun contrast to Nelson's smoothness. Imagine if David Byrne and Marvin Gaye sang a duet. And is it just me, or is there something slightly wrong with the rhythm?

So this is an interesting case, and given the radically different directions Hubbard, Dolphy, and Bill Evans (Oliver Nelson himself did not make any other albums anywhere near as famous as this one afterwards) would pursue as time went on - Evans' classical influence, which you do not really hear here; Dolphy's avant-garde leanings and Freddie Hubbard's gutbucket, funky approach to it, which you certainly do - I imagine these sessions were rather tense. But they made the best of it, and they gave their listeners a great example of what happens when a bunch of musicians from radically different backgrounds (hell, Paul Chambers played just about every type of jazz, didn't he?) get together in the midst of the jazz revolution and make something that both the traditionalists and the revolutionaries can enjoy. Basically, if you enjoy any sort of jazz, this will appeal to you - even big band purists will probably be able to appreciate the harmonies of "Stolen Moments."

Oliver Nelson with Eric Dolphy - 1961 - Straight Ahead

Oliver Nelson with Eric Dolphy 
Straight Ahead 

01. Images
02. Six And Four
03. Mama Lou
04. Ralph's New Blues
05. Straight Ahead
06. 111-44

Oliver Nelson - alto & tenor saxophones, clarinet
Eric Dolphy - alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute
Richard Wyands - piano
George Duvivier - bass
Roy Haynes - drums

Recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on March 1, 1961

Oliver Nelson's fame as an arranger often overshadows his work as a leader, which is a shame considering the quality of his albums. A classic hard-bop date from 1961, STRAIGHT AHEAD displays the best of Nelson's skills--his writing (he composed five of the six numbers here), his fine command of the sax (his bright, open tone and clean, lyrical approach), and his excellent taste in personnel. The latter is of particular note here. In addition to Roy Haynes (drums), George Duvivier (bass), and Richard Wyands (piano), the enormously talented Eric Dolphy is also on board, posing a triple threat on alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and flute. Nelson bravely goes toe to toe with Dolphy, and while Nelson's playing is smart and accomplished, he is buried beneath the avalanche of Dolphy's invention (the multi-instrumentalist's knotty, springy lines, always full of surprise and humor, are nearly impossible to top). Everyone gets to stretch out on Milt Jackson's "Ralph's New Blues," Nelson's lilting "Images," and the frantic title cut, among others, making STRAIGHT AHEAD a magnificent showcase for all of these remarkably talented musicians.

Recorded less than a month after his most popular album, The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Oliver Nelson's follow-up, the inaccurately titled Straight Ahead, is probably a more enjoyable listen, though it is less varied. Nelson plays with five musicians here as opposed to seven on Abstract Truth, which (perhaps intentionally) limits Nelson's options as an arranger. Most of the focus is on Nelson and sideman extraordinaire Eric Dolphy, who deliver the bulk of the solos. Nelson's sturdy solos set up the pyrotechnical Dolphy, whose flute, bass clarinet, and alto sax solos assure that this album is anything but "straight ahead" (even if tracks like "Six and Four" and "Mama Lou" are fairly conventional, compositionally). Though Straight Ahead may not be as sonically panoramic as The Blues and the Abstract Truth, it is a record that hums along and really purrs, especially on Side Two (as "Ralph's New Blues" and "Straight Ahead" are the album's best cuts). Definitely recommended for all fans of jazz, especially fans of Eric Dolphy.

Contrast is everything. Think of food for example: A big salty hunk of mature cheese is nicely offset by a couple of sweet grapes. Gastronomes would never dream of eating a rich foie-gras without the accompaniment of the honeyed sweetness of a glass of Sauternes. 

The same is true with music; a whole album of fast-paced music quickly becomes draining. Likewise, an hour of chilled-out dub can send you to sleep. The saxophonist and composer Oliver Nelson was obviously acutely aware of this when choosing his musical sparring partners. Nelson's decision to share the frontline on three albums with the multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy is often described as brave. I believe that Nelson knew exactly what he was doing. Dolphy, a hero of the avant-garde, has a style so diametrically opposed to Oliver Nelson’s that the two just can’t help but complement each other. 

This synergy is beautifully demonstrated on the 1961 recording Straight Ahead. Both soloists play a number of instruments, with Nelson on alto/tenor saxophone and clarinet and Dolphy on bass clarinet, alto saxophone and flute. Oliver Nelson was a jazz composer par excellence, and this album does not disappoint. It contains a number of memorable themes, such as “Six and Four,” “Mama Lou” and “Straight Ahead.” Best of all: the soloing. The high-speed elasticity of Dolphy’s runs contrast perfectly with the pure, soaring tone of Nelson. The two horn players spark each other and generate music of genuine intensity. 

It is worth noting that Oliver Nelson and Eric Dolphy played together on a number of other albums, the highlight of which must be the classic chamber-jazz of The Blues and the Abstract Truth. Pass the grapes...

Oliver Nelson Sextet - 1960 - Screamin' The Blues

Oliver Nelson Sextet 
Screamin' The Blues

01. Screamin' The Blues
02. March On, March On
03. The Drive
04. The Meetin'
05. Three Seconds
06. Alto-Itis

Alto Saxophone, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – George Duvivier
Drums – Roy Haynes
Piano – Richard Wyands
Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone – Oliver Nelson
Trumpet – Richard Williams

Recorded May 27, 1960, New York.

Screamin' the Blues is an apt description of the soloists' approach on this 1960 session, here reissued as an RVG remaster, the first of three matching leader Oliver Nelson with avant-gardist Eric Dolphy. Although not as well-known as Nelson's masterpiece, Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961), the date is characterized, above all, by "generosity" on the part of all three principals, including the underrated trumpeter Richard Williams.
Nelson's tenor solo on the title tune is the equivalent of an operatic tenor aria—full-throated, dramatic, played to the back row. It alone is testimony to the remarkable player he was before putting the horn aside and arranging for everyone from Ringo Starr to Thelonious Monk to opera diva Rise Stevens. Add to these activities his film scores for Last Tango in Paris, Lady Sings the Blues, and Alfie, with a sound-track featuring Sonny Rollins, and you begin to wonder less at why he died so young than how he accomplished so much in his forty-three years.

On both tenor and alto Nelson favored a pure but powerful sound. His vibrato spins tightly and he's forward on the beat, but otherwise the decisiveness and absolute assurance with which he "sticks" every note is prime-time Dexter Gordon. Moreover, he thinks like a composer—constructing solos with a beginning, middle, and end, each musical narrative culminating in a majestic but hard-earned climax. As harmonically grounded as he is, no player is more averse to "running the changes"; in fact, Nelson incorporates the principle of tension and release practically to the extreme. He will repeat an identical phrase derived from a chord's "extension notes" to the point of discomfort before relinquishing it to the harmonic mainstream. Especially striking examples are his solos on "Perdido (Soul Battle, 1960) and "Mainstem (Mainstem, 1961).

Following the stentorian statements of Nelson's tenor and Williams' trumpet on the title tune, Dolphy's squawking bass clarinet sounds like an odd duck. But once moving to alto for "March On, March On" he reveals the aggressive technique and bold harmonies that caused Nelson, a harmonic experimenter and virtuoso player in his own right, to see in Dolphy an adventurous musical soul and kindred spirit, someone capable of pushing the leader to greater risks and potentially greater rewards.

Dolphy remains on alto for the next five tunes, frequently raising the bar for Nelson, whose musical-emotional rhetoric, fueled by Dolphy's range-busting top tones and volcanic technique, is not about to give an inch. After a particularly blistering solo by the guest alto player on the leader's "Alto-itis," Nelson starts his solo tenuously, as though planning his attack carefully before executing with breathtaking surgical precision, leaving the "screamin'" to the entire ensemble on the out chorus. Sounding no less eruptive than the Count Basie band—from the Wyands-Duvivier-Haynes power plant to the three explosive horns each impersonating an entire section—it's a fitting finale by musicians for whom feeling blue is an occasion for celebrating.

Ken McIntyre and Eric Dolphy - 1960 - Looking Ahead

Ken McIntyre and Eric Dolphy 
Looking Ahead

01. Lautir
02. Curtsy
03. Geo's Tune
04. They All Laughed
05. Head Shakin'
06. Dianna

Alto Saxophone, Flute – Ken McIntyre
Alto Saxophone, Flute, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – Sam Jones
Cover – Esmond Edwards
Drums – Arthur Taylor
Piano – Walter Bishop, Jr.

Recorded in Englewood Cliffs, NJ; June 28, 1960.

It was quite fitting that Ken McIntyre had an opportunity to record in a quintet with Eric Dolphy, for his multi-instrumental approach was similar to Dolphy's, although he always had a very different sound. On this CD reissue, McIntyre plays alto on four tunes and flute on two others (his work on bassoon, oboe, and bass clarinet would come slightly later), while Dolphy mostly plays alto but doubles on flute on one number and switches to bass clarinet for "Dianna." With pianist Walter Bishop, Jr., bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Art Taylor offering concise solos and swinging support, McIntyre somehow almost holds his own with Dolphy on a variety of originals and George Gershwin's "They All Laughed." A very interesting date.

We have here a meeting of two great multi-instrumentalists, Eric Dolphy and Ken McIntyre. Dolphy is of course the one we all know and love and for everyone who loves him, this is a classic, quite little known but fantastic session well worth picking up. And he is in great, cutting form as usual, mostly on alto (3 tracks) and flute and bass clarinet.
Ken McIntyre is more of an unknown. Also a giant multi-instrumentalist, McIntyre plays only alto sax and flute here, but later on would pick up the bass clarinet, oboe, and bassoon. His solos graced Cecil Taylor's brilliant, Unit Structures some years later. To his credit here, he sounds nothing like Dolphy though! You know, sometimes on Johnny Griffin's A Blowing Session, it's hard to distinguish between Griffin and Trane (and sometimes even Mobley! ) But not here... these two are very different, and together they sound great on the ensemble sections.
Five of the six songs are McIntyre originals. Most of them are nice, and surprisingly quirky and memorable. They're all medium to fast tempo, with a nice light swing thanks to the top rhythm section of Walter Bishop (piano), Sam Jones (bass) and Art Taylor (drums). and of course Dolphy and McIntyre just cut things up!
McIntyre is slower, dryer, and more careful that Dolphy who spins and jumps all over with his unique, loopy, bee-buzzing-in-a-jar style. But, McIntyre does some interesting things, and takes some tricky chances. One shouldn't downplay his contribution to this disk at all. Check out his solo on the last song, Dianna. His playing is gritty and experimental before giving way to Dolphy who rolls and sings notes on the flute.
Overall, it's a great album. McIntyre is a very underrecorded voice so this album is somewhat essential. He sounds fresh and different throughout. And for Dolphy fans, this is of course essential. It won't be in constant rotation on your record player, but it's a good find.

Jazz Artists Guild - 1960 - Newport Rebels

Jazz Artists Guild 
Newport Rebels

01. Mysterious Blues 8:35
02. Cliff Walk 9:37
03. Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams 3:47
04. Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do 7:11
05. Me And You 9:46

Alto Saxophone – Eric Dolphy (tracks: A1, B2)
Bass – Charles Mingus (tracks: A1, B1, B3), John "Peck" Morrison* (tracks: A2, B2)
Drums – Jo Jones, Max Roach (tracks: A2)
Piano – Kenny Dorham (tracks: B2), Tommy Flanagan (tracks: A1, B1, B3)
Tenor Saxophone – Walter Benton (tracks: A2)
Trombone – Jimmy Knepper (tracks: A1), Julian Priester (tracks: A2)
Trumpet – Benny Bailey (tracks: B2), Booker Little (tracks: A2), Roy Eldridge (tracks: A1, B1, B3)
Vocals – Abbey Lincoln (tracks: B2)

A1, B1, and B3 were recorded November 11, 1960; A2 and B2 were recorded November 1, 1960.

The (now) famous Newport Jazz Festival was inaugurated in 1954 as a nonprofit organization by George Wein and Lorraine Lorillard in Newport, Rhode Island. It quickly became a huge success attracting bigger and bigger crowds and with the success came problems and finally in 1960 the bubble burst. In that year, not only were the crowds getting unmanageable but also there had developed a resentment towards the festival by a significant number of (mainly) black musicians who left that the organizers were discriminating against them personally and black jazz-new and old. Max Roach and Charles Mingus, both displaying great fortitude, decided to organize their own 'Rebel' Festival adjacent to the Main event. Participating were the new 'lions' Ornette Coleman, Mingus, Max and Abbey Lincoln alongside Kenny Dorham, Jimmy Knepper, Roy Eldridge and Jo Jones. Sadly the Rebel Festival went unrecorded but Candid producer Nat Hentoff gathered many of the participants at a Studio in New York on November 11, 1960 and this album is both a tribute to everyone involved and reminder of a most significant happening in American Jazz History.

In 1960 bassist Charles Mingus helped to organize an alternative Newport Jazz Festival in protest of Newport's conservative and increasingly commercial booking policy. The music on this LP (which has been reissued on CD) features some of the musicians who participated in Mingus's worthy if short-lived venture. Trumpeter Roy Eldridge performs three numbers with pianist Tommy Flanagan, Mingus and drummer Jo Jones; of greatest interest is "Mysterious Blues" for it adds trombonist Jimmy Knepper and the unique altoist Eric Dolphy successfully to the group. The other selections match up drummers Max Roach and Jo Jones with Roach's quintet (featuring trumpeter Booker Little) on "Cliff Walk" and feature singer Abbey Lincoln on "Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do."

Mingus never ceases to both surprise and delight me. He also does a masterful job of repackaging his work (one of many examples: Mingus Revisited was also released as Pre-Bird.) He is true to form here because four of the six tracks on this album are also on a five track album titled Reincarnation Of A Love Bird.

There is a back story to this album. Mingus and Max Roach, among others, had grown disenchanted with that they considered to be poor treatment of black musicians by the Newport Jazz Festival organization. Mingus and Roach were always strong personalities and leaders, so they put on a parallel concert in 1960. It wasn't recorded, but this album and the Reincarnation Of A Love Bird one were recorded in the studio shortly afterwards, produced by Nat Hentoff.

What sets this (and that) album apart from much of Mingus' work during the period (1960) is the line-up. Mingus' regulars, such as Eric Dolphy and Booker Ervin are here (especially Mingus' musical soulmate Dannie Richmond on drums). However, they are also joined by Roy Eldridge on the last four tracks. He adds a - for lack of a better term - nostalgic anchor to the songs. That not to say his playing is outmoded because it's anything but that. It's just that there is a certain energy and familiarity that he brings to those tracks.

If you love Mingus, then you won't be able to help smiling when you listen to this album. I would love to say that it's an unexpected pleasure, but, then, when Mingus the unexpected is always expected.

Latin Jazz Quintet - 1961 - Latin Jazz Quintet

Latin Jazz Quintet 
Latin Jazz Quintet

01. You're The Cutest One
02. Speak Low
03. I Got Rhythm
04. Night And Day
05. Cha Cha King
06. I Wish I Were In Love Again
07. You Don't Know What Love Is
08. Lover
09. Mangolina
10. April Rain

Recorded in 1961.

Felipe Díaz — leader, vibes
Eric Dolphy — alto sax, flute, bass clarinet
Arthur Jenkins — piano
Bobby Rodríguez — bass
Tommy López — conga drums
Louie Ramírez — timbales

A extremely rare album that Eric Dolphy recorded with the Latin Jazz Quintet – a rare Latin-based side of Dolphy's career, and a set that's a bit different than the Prestige album by the same pairing! This set features a slightly different lineup of the LJQ – one that includes Louie Ramirez on timbales, Felipe Diaz on vibes, and Art Jenkins on piano – all grooving very hard, and very tight next to Dolphy's work on alto, flute, and bass clarinet! His work here still has a bit of a modern edge, but not nearly as much so as on his work as a leader – mostly content to settle into the groove with the rest of the group, but then bursting out boldly with some really inventive solo moments!

The Latin Jazz Quintet + Eric Dolphy - 1960 - Caribe

The Latin Jazz Quintet + Eric Dolphy 

01. Caribé 10:05
02. Blues In 6/8 5:46
03. First Bass Line 4:04
04. Mambo Ricci 6:54
05. Spring Is Here 5:00
06. Sunday Go Meetin' 5:48

Recorded in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, August 19, 1960.

Alto Saxophone, Flute, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – Bill Ellington
Congas – Juan Amalbert
Drums, Timbales – Manny Ramos
Piano – Gene Casey
Vibraphone – Charlie Simons

This record is the equivalent of throwing a stick of dynamite into a sedate, well-ordered dinner party, having the dynamite go off with a bang, and somehow leaving everything in its place. Such is the volatile Eric Dolphy, a serious wailer on the alto sax and even more idiosyncratic and radical on the bass clarinet, who barges into the lair of Juan Amalbert's Latin Jazz Quintet and doesn't perturb them in the least. The title track is sheer schizophrenia, the LJQ ambling along in a conga-accented blues walk while Dolphy fires all over the place on alto sax. Even the more animated "Mambo Ricci" has the same kind of group dynamic; Dolphy on fire, Gene Casey calm and deliberate on piano. Only on "Spring Is Here," where Dolphy switches to a contemplative-toned flute, do we find a balanced meeting ground, though his flute solo on "Sunday Go Meetin'" goes back out on a limb. Not an ideal match, then, but fascinating without a doubt.