Eric Dolphy: Out To Lunch (2011)
Recorded just four months before his tragic demise, Eric Dolphy's Out To Lunch (Blue Note, 1964) represents a pinnacle moment in avant-garde jazz of the 1960s. Together with Andrew Hill's Point of Departure on the same label and from the same year, Out To Lunch is among the most challenging albums in the Blue Note catalogone to approach with a very open mind. It is also the only full studio record that Dolphy completed for the label, and the only one released during his lifetime.
Similar to Hill's masterpiece, Out To Lunch focuses on Dolphy's outré compositions every bit as much as the ambitious and aggressive improvising. And these compositions are way out there, with jaggedly written lines, multiple thematic elements, and dissonance to beat the band. The opening "Hat and Beard," an homage to Thelonious Monk, has an almost military rhythmic cadence, with a stutter-step walking bass line supporting a mechanical melody. Following the statement, Dolphy jumps right in with his bass clarinet and promptly blows a solo from Mars, with serrated, stuttered runs and odd false notes. This is as complete a statement of musical independencefrom fashion, commercial concerns, and traditionas is likely to be found. It's blues from hell, and it sets the pace for the entire record.
It's also now almost fifty years old, and high time for a definitive reissue. Ron Rambach and his crew at Music Matters have remastered Out To Lunch from the original master tapes onto 180g 45 RPM vinyl. The vinyl is flawless, and the sound quality is exceptional. The clarity is so enhanced that the keys on Dolphy's horn can be heard under his playing. Bobby Hutcherson's vibes have a full ringing tone, and Freddie Hubbard's trumpet reveals his prized burnished bronze tone in all its glory.
Out To Lunch has one other defining element: the cover. Unlike most Blue Note covers, which tended to be abstract geometrics or portraiture, Out To Lunch actually shares a joke. The clock in the store window announcing "will be back" has seven hands. The Reid Miles photograph is bathed in indigo, creating one of the most iconic cover images ever produced. Here again, the Music Matters treatment really pays off. Wrapping a 12" record requires a 12" sleeve, meaning good old-fashioned full-sized album artwork for enhanced visual pleasure. In addition to great sounding vinyl, the Music Matters folks have gone to unusual lengths to recreate the covers with full, brilliant covers and additional session photographs. With Out To Lunch, those visual efforts are easy to appreciate.
Like Point of Departure, Out To Lunch is an essential watershed in the jazz canon, representing a creative peak for the soon-to-be-gone Dolphy. It isn't always pretty, but it is undeniably brilliant. The high quality Music Matters treatment takes a legendary record and makes it even better by providing access to every bit of sound that can possibly be wrested from the original tapes, wrapped in a wonderful cover.
Track Listing: Hat And Beard; Something Sweet, Something Tender; Gazzelloni; Out To Lunch; Straight Up And Down.
Personnel: Eric Dolphy: alto sax, flute, bass clarinet; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; Bobby Hutcherson: vibes; Richard Davis: bass; Tony Williams: drums.