2018 was a spectacular year for archival jazz. Just a quick glance at last year's releases includes John Coltrane's Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album (Verve), Coltrane's further adventures on Miles Davis & John Coltrane The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6 (Legacy), and Erroll Garner's revelatory Nightconcert (Mack Avenue Records) quickly taking its place alongside the pianist's The Concert by the Sea (Columbia, 1955) for historical importance. Towards the end of the year, lost broadcasts by Charles Mingus from Detroit in 1973 came dazzlingly into the light with the release of Jazz In Detroit/Strata Concert Gallery/46 Belden (BBE/180 Proof).
Heading off 2019, Resonance Records's three-CD set of Eric Dolphy's Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions hopefully heralds another great year for jazz history. If it doesn't, we still have this set. Recorded months before the watershed Out To Lunch (Blue Note, 1964) and barely a year before his untimely passing due to undiagnosed diabetes, Dolphy, with his mind full of ideas, walked into New York's Music Maker's Studio with Alan Douglas behind the mixing desk and bared his soul.
The first disc of these inspired sessions is an expanded version of 1963's Conversations, originally issued on Douglas's small FM label (and the second disc bearing fruits from these sessions, Iron Man (Douglas International), was posthumously released in 1968). An exhilarating over/under take on Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" and the Caribbean/Mexican mix of "Musical Matador" immediately confirm Dolphy's progressive intentions and affirm his natural ear for color and orchestration. It's not too fanciful to speculate that, with their instantly accessible melodic turns and some adroit editing, Douglas could have spun both tunes into that rarest of rare beasts: the '60s jazz single, thereby introducing Dolphy's dancing flute work and swirling, exotic bass clarinet to a much wider, and acceptable, pop audience. But that's all conjecture, which doesn't characterize any of the music across these three discs.
A young Bobby Hutcherson on vibes shines complete. An even younger Woody Shaw on trumpet gives Dolphy a run for what little money he had on "Iron Man," Mandrake," "Burning Spear," and "Jitterbug Waltz" (another tune on this set appearing in both its final take and as an often looser and wilder unissued alternate version). Fiercely determined, Dolphy works this music solo, for example on the leaping and bounding three takes of "Love Me," and in multiple combinations up to a ten-piece band featuring soprano saxophonist Clifford Jordan, flutist William Lasha, alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons, drummer J.C. Moses and, of course, Dolphy's brother-in-bass Richard Davis. The polar opposite of his more volatile and combative exchanges with Mingus, Richard Davis and Dolphy were ever the like-minded theorists, conversing like wizened philosophers on the viscosity of intervallic ambiguities as well as the sacredness of the spirit within, as on Duke Ellington's quietly elegiac "Come Sunday." Both takes of "Alone Together" and "Muses For Richard Davis" are deeply emotional free range dialogues that never lose their intensity.
Moving beyond the tight charts that made his work in any group a force to reckon with, the bonus track "A Personal Statement" moves Dolphy into abstract improvisation and sung/spoken word. The piece, a rumination on the horrors of Jim Crow, was composed by pianist Bob James and finds Dolphy speaking out and praying on all three of his instruments against the field holler of countertenor David Schwartz. Though a stirring but uneven listen, it shows Dolphy as intellectually malleable as ever, taking on challenge after challenge in search of himself. To paraphrase Coltrane, our lives are made better for listening to him.
Disc 1: Jitterbug Waltz; Music Matador; Love Me; Alone Together; Muses For Richard Davis (previously
unissued 1); Muses For
Richard Davis (previously unissued 2). Disc 2: Iron Man; Mandrake; Come Sunday; Burning Spear; Ode
to Charlie Parker; A
Personal Statement (previously unissued); Disc 3: Music Matador (alternate take); Love Me (alternate
take 1); Love Me (alternate
take 2); Alone Together (alternate take); Jitterbug Waltz; Mandrake (alternate take); Burning Spear
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