Oliver Nelson: Straight Ahead (1961)
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.....
Track Listing: Images; Six and Four; Mama Lou; Ralph's New Blues; Straight Ahead; 111-44
Personnel: Oliver Nelson: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Eric Dolphy: alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Richard Wyands: piano; George Duvivier: bass; Roy Haynes: drums