Eric Dolphy's lone Blue Note album, 1964's Out To Lunch! is rightly regarded as a classic but the two records he made for the short-lived Douglas label just before that, Conversations (1963) and Iron Man (1963), have been largely forgotten, due in part to being out-of-print for many years. Now the Resonance label has done something about that, putting out the entire contents of the 1963 studio sessions that birthed those albums in a deluxe 3 CD or 2 LP package that also contains unreleased alternate takes and a previously-unheard composition.
These sessions are presented in monaural sound that picks up clear detail of every instrument. They show Dolphy working in various formations, solo, duo, quintet and large group. The quintet anticipates the Out To Lunch! formation with Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Woody Shaw on trumpet, Eddie Kahn on bass and J.C. Moses on drums, all dancing through "Jitterbug Waltz," with Dolphy's flute shimmering and piping at the front. The larger group adds Prince Lasha on flute, Sonny Simmons on alto sax, Clifford Jordan on tenor and Garvin Bushell on bassoon, with bassist Richard Davis and drummer Charles Moffett also joining in on some tracks. This band has a joyous, reedy ensemble-sound like nothing else around at the time, and makes you wonder what Dolphy might have done with larger groups if he had lived longer.
The individual nine-piece tracks all stand out. The ensemble plays joyous Caribbean-flavored dance music on Simmons' "Music Matador," with Dolphy's alto honking and twisting happily over Davis' heavy strumming. "Iron Man" sounds like Dolphy's personal mix of hard-charging bebop with gospel undertones, featuring his alto bending and squeaking over a hustling rhythm section. The horns ride the bumpy melody of "Mandrake" over a taut, crisp beat laid down by Hutcherson, Moses and Kahn, with Shaw's smooth, fiery trumpet making a nice complement to Dolphy's rough alto. "Burning Spear" alternates eerie trills and punchy swing with the hoots and roars of Dolphy's bass clarinet, again balanced by Shaw's more straight-ahead sound.
Then there are the solos and duets. Dolphy's solo alto piece, "Love Me," a brief collage of Charlie Parker-like runs studded with honks, is impressive but the most remarkable music of these sessions comes on his duets with Richard Davis. The originally-released version of "Alone Together" starts with Davis dramatically plucking and bowing his bass solo. Then Dolphy tentatively joins in on bass clarinet with low swooping runs and wandering fragments of melody as Davis saws beside him, with the song's actual melody only appearing near the end. By contrast, their version of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday" is mostly melody, with Davis poignantly bowing the tune while Dolphy's bass clarinet quivers around him. On "Ode To Charlie Parker" Dolphy takes the lead once more, playing airy flute melodies above Davis' sensitive pizzicato bass.
Richard Davis' mastery of the bass and deep communication with Dolphy really stand out on these remastered discs, further cemented by two takes of the previously unreleased duet, "Muses For Richard Davis." Here, Davis bows the melancholy theme as Dolphy swirls around him with amazing bass clarinet work, creating mournful classical duets with just a tinge of blues. All the other unreleased tracks in this set are alternate takes collected onto disc 3. The group tracks all follow the same basic template as the official versions, with the musicians still engaged and lively though trying different ideas in their solos, Woody Shaw being a continual standout. The two alternates of "Love Me" have Dolphy experimenting with different approaches, staying in the middle range of his alto on the first and trying a slower, more romantic sound on the second. The alternate "Alone Together" is much more conventionally jazzy. Davis starts with a different, higher pitched bass pattern and Dolphy joins in playing the theme almost immediately. It's fun but doesn't have the weight of the more abstract, officially-released version.
The final bonus track, "A Personal Statement" shows another side of Dolphy's interests. It originally appeared on a 1987 Blue Note album of Dolphy odds and ends called Other Aspects and presents him delving into the classical avant-garde. His alto swoops and slides through a classical-jazz hybrid, written by future Smooth Jazz master Bob James, that is dominated by thick counter-tenor singing and stark piano chords. It's an intriguing experiment that shows another road he might have explored if he'd lived longer.
All of this is accompanied by a 100-page booklet that details how the tapes of these sessions came to light and has reminiscences from Dolphy's friends and colleagues of the time, including Simmons and Davis, the last two living participants in these sessions. It also includes interviews from other collaborators and disciples like Nicole Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman and Oliver Lake. This music is an important piece of the Eric Dolphy story and it is great having it back in circulation again, especially when it sounds this good. In addition, this set should also remind everyone that Richard Davis is a monster bassist.
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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