Out To Lunch
02. Something Sweet, Something Tender 6:01
03. Gazzelloni 7:18
04. Out To Lunch 12:05
05. Straight Up And Down 8:18
Alto Saxophone, Flute, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – Richard Davis
Drums – Anthony Williams
Trumpet – Freddie Hubbard
Vibraphone – Bobby Hutcherson
Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ; February 25, 1964.
Eric Dolphy is one of the most infamous/influential figures in the history of jazz. His brand of jazz was not rooted in blues but in classical music, hence his compositions and his playing technique taking on a more angular approach. As a result, he was criticized for not being "jazz enough" and the music being too sophisticated. Regardless of the criticism, Dolphy created a new identity of jazz: One that blends steady/catchy rhythms with highly abstracted harmony and melody (extremely difficult for musicians to do.) Out to Lunch is perhaps his most fully realized effort.
Out to Lunch is considered to be a masterpiece of jazz music, specifically in avant-garde jazz. In close introspection, it isn't as avant-garde, as say for example, John Coltrane's Om or Cecil Taylor's Unit Structures. Its avant-garde nature is more along the lines of Andrew Hill's Judgement! and Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come. It's a cusp record: It straddles between avant-garde and tonal bebop harmony, which gave Out to Lunch its reputation and legacy.
But, as with the majority of avant-garde music, it can be challenging to get into at first. In standard avant-garde/experimental fare, you'll need to put down your conceptions of music, have an open mind, and listen to it to see if it resonates or not.
On to the music itself, the album opens with what may be the most famous composition on here, "Hat and Beard." This is Dolphy's tribute to jazz legend Thelonious Monk (Monk had a distinctive appearance, as he was known to wear sunglasses, hats, and a beard to go with it. Hence, Hat and Beard.) Right away, the composition starts with a somewhat odd rhythm with brief flashes of vibraphones and a rolling bassline. After a few moments, the main theme is introduced.* In standard Dolphy language, the theme is disorienting but melodic enough to follow the sense of rhythm and swing in the composition. After the theme comes the solos. Dolphy breaks into his style of improvisation: Wide intervals, replete with rapid runs and trills in between, laced with animal-like effects, such as squawking, honking, bleeting, and many more I could mention. These techniques give Dolphy's sound a more light-hearted, humorous feel to it.
After comes Freddie Hubbard, who in contrast to Dolphy's solo, has a more serious sounding solo filled with runs and trills but without the animal effects.
Next is Bobby Hutcherson. His solo is rather unique since he is contrasting with Tony Williams.
(To detract quickly, the effect of their playing sounds reminds me of the sounds of raindrops, with Williams' thin, scratchy attacks and Hutcherson's full-on chordal attacks going against each other.)
We're now back to the theme once more, and after one more reiteration of the bridge, the piece closes out with Dolphy's bass clarinet fading out.
The next piece is "Something Sweet, Something Tender".
The shortest piece on the album, this is perhaps the most rhythmically free piece on here. In the introduction, Dolphy takes a more ballad-like melody (albeit in his style) backed up by Richard Davis' bowed bass, giving a somewhat intense feel to it. After the intro, everyone plays the theme. It has a meditative quality overall.
One noted aspect is Davis' bass. This is his spotlight, as he freely moves around while everyone else works around the theme.
Another noted aspect is Tony Williams' drums. For the most part, they are subdued to the background or they are absent.
The full band overall seem separated from each other and only come together in the theme. An interesting contrast to "Hat and Beard.
Next is "Gazzelloni". Named after the famed Italian flutist (whom Dolphy was among his pupils). The most bebop-like tune, this gets right to the point. A few hints of the theme appears, then quickly disintegrates into improvisation.
Here, Dolphy demonstrates his flute playing. This time, his animal-like sounds resemble the sounds of birds (very atonal ones, if you ask me).
The highlight of "Gazzelloni" is the interaction between Williams' shifting drum pulses and Hutcherson's rapid vibraphone runs.
Next is the title track. The longest track of the album, this is the most avant-garde piece. Dolphy switches to alto saxophone for this performance. Just about everyone here is off on their own tangent, yet keeping it together.
One highlight on here occurs about six minutes in, when the rhythm slows down and Hutcherson displays his virtuoso vibraphone playing. Again, Hutcherson and Williams provide an interesting contrast to each other, giving each other space while Davis fills in the cracks with his bass.
Then, Davis takes a bass solo. For a few split minutes, the atmosphere gets quiet as you focus on his bass, when suddenly, Dolphy comes crashing down, then Williams picks up the rhythm again, with Hubbard dropping in and out. After a brief drum solo, we head back to the main theme and the piece concludes.
The final piece is "Straight Up and Down." According to the liner notes, it is said that it's supposed to represent a drunken stagger (which can be said for the entire album). So in this respect, this is the most humorous piece of the album.
After a few iterations of the theme, Dolphy goes off, followed by Hubbard. Meanwhile in the rhythm, Williams is again shifting rhythms and pulses, Davis is in the distance, and Hutcherson fills in here and there, up front and in the background.
Towards the end, Hutcherson does his masterful fills while Williams slows down and speeds up, adding this feeling of thick texture slowly adding itself together (or collapsing, however you see it). The atmosphere gets quiet, then suddenly Dolphy and Hubbard explode with a five-note run with an added vibraphone hit. We're back to the theme. After a few iterations, the bass and drums fade out, with one final vibraphone hit and the piece (as well as the album) has concluded.
After the recording of Out to Lunch, Eric Dolphy went to Europe to tour with Charles Mingus in a widely acclaimed tour. Sadly, these concerts would turn out to be Dolphy's last ever, as he died of a diabetic coma at age 36, making Out to Lunch his last ever album. Eric Dolphy became one of the very many musicians who seemed to have died just as their music was starting to become fully realized, leaving us with a what-if scenario.
In conclusion, I rate Out to Lunch five stars. Its use of atypical harmonies, off-kilter melodies, revolving rhythms, and its use of tension, release, and dynamics is without a doubt a fascinating combination. What I really enjoy is the mixing of jazz with classical and avant-garde. As I mentioned earlier, making a composition or an album that is both catchy and experimental is a very difficult achievement for musicians, as it usually tends to be one or the other.
Because of Dolphy's death occuring soon afterwards, this is the highest of his achievements and we can only wonder was bound to be next.