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Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet:The Expanded 1963 New York Sessions

Dan McClenaghan By

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Multiple woodwind-ist Eric Dolphy (1928-1964) is one of the most prominent "What If" guys in jazz. What if he'd lived beyond his 36 years—he died unexpectedly of undiagnosed diabetic complications. What if he'd been able to nurture his distinctive musical vision to a full flowering? What if—like his sometimes co-conspirator, saxophonist John Coltrane in his move from Prestige Records to the Impulse! Records, he'd connected with a major label that would allow him a free artistic license and distribution/advertising support?

Not that Dolphy was without big label exposure. He recorded Out to Lunch (1964) for Blue Note Records, in addition to two more that came out on the label after his death. So, it was three releases with the big guys in a five year, forty-albums-released time span.

Now Resonance Records—a label responsible for finding lost treasures of pianist Bill Evans, guitarist Wes Montgomery, The Three Sounds, organist Larry Young—has taken two late-period and somewhat obscure Dolphy outings, and packaged them with eighty-five minutes of unreleased Dolphy, and called it Musical Prophet: The Expanded New York Studio Recordings.

Iron Man (Douglas International, 1963) and Conversations (Douglas International, 1963) make up the first two discs of the three-disc set. A pair of previously unissued tunes close Disc 1. A bonus track closes Disc 2. Disc 3 is all previously unreleased Dolphy, drawn from the same July 1 & 3 sessions in 1963 that resulted in the two albums.

Somewhat obscure? Perhaps, but then—with the exception of the previously-mentioned Out to Lunch, Out There (Candid, 1960), and perhaps Last Date (Verve, 1964), all Dolphy discs can be considered obscure. It's a sort of "small-label guy curse."

Some consider these albums a stylistic shot across the bow that would announce the genius of 1964's Out to Lunch. Maybe, but these sound somewhat different. On the more up-tempo tunes, there is a waving harmonic attitude. When horns and brass are playing unison, it's not quite unison; it's slightly—sometimes more than slightly—skewed. Something that harkens to New Orleans, or—to compare it to rock/pop sounds—what the group The Band was doing vocally on tunes like "We Can Talk" from Music From Big Pink (Columbia, 1968) or "Jawbone," from their brown album, The Band, (Columbia, 1969), or their ramshackle backing vocals on Bob Dylan's "Quinn The Eskimo" and "Minstrel Boy," from Self Portrait (Columbia, 1970).

Dolphy was a distinctive stylist, his solos looping off like inflated balloons set free with their stems untied, shooting off on the up-tempo tunes in circuitously-swirling, erratic real-time flights, like a panicked bird; sometimes (on the ballads, and especially when he's playing bass clarinet) in a languid, elastic slow motion. On alto sax and bass clarinet he's probably the most recognizable jazz voice in a blindfold test.

Also, there are more horns here than on the one horn, (Dolphy) and-a-rhythm-section quartet line-up of Out to Lunch. Here it's Dolphy plus another alto sax, a bassoon, another flute, trumpet, and tenor sax—which gives the proceedings a more orchestral feeling with the mingling of the voices. As with all Dolphy work, the sound is a loose-jointed, rambling listening experience, not too far off from that of pianist Cecil Taylor's Unit Structures (Blue Note, 1966), though not that far out.

As for the third disc, It's seven alternate takes from those two recording sessions from which Iron Man and Conversations were compiled, all more than worthy of inclusion in this celebration of Eric Dolphy, recorded a bit under a year before his passing.

Track Listing: Disc 1: Jitterbug Waltz; Music Matador; Love Me; Alone Together; Muses (previously unissued); Muses (previously unissued). Disc 2: Iron Man; Mandrake; Come Sunday; Burning Spear; Ode to C.P.; Jim Crow (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 (alternate take).

Personnel: Eric Dolphy: alto sax, flute, bass clarinet; William "Prince" Lasha: flute; Huey "Sonny" Simmons: alto sax; Clifford Jordan: soprano sax; Woody Shaw: trumpet; Garvin Bushell: bassoon; Bobby Hutherson: vibes; Richard Davis: bass; Eddie Kahn: bass; J.C. Moses: drums; Charles Moffett: drums

Title: Musical Prophet:The Expanded 1963 New York Sessions | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Resonance Records

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