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Eric Dolphy's final studio album is hailed as one of the finest examples of mid-'60s post bop. Its reputation is purely one of backwards significance. Dolphy, having recorded the album in February 1964, was in Europe less than six weeks later and was dead less than two months after that. Though likely he never held a copy in his hands or heard any critical opinion of it, it marked his last flurry of original compositions and is considered his apex. It is fascinating to consider whether he would had moved past or away from the album in 1965, had he lived.
Though Dolphy should not be considered an avant-garde musician by the term's most common definitions, most interpretations of Out To Lunch have been done by players working squarely in that area. So it is with this album, the most ambitious thus far in its recreation of the five-tune disc (with one original added to the final "Straight Up and Down, extending the piece to almost thirty minutes) through the lens of fifteen Japanese and European musicians.
The New Jazz Orchestra is not a big band, but a loose amalgamation of distinct voices. This distinction is important, since a big band arrangement of Dolphy would sap the life out of his quirky, almost inconoclastic music. Here the intent is to bring a new meaning to the music, much like Warhol's soup cans. Though the instrumentation of the original is represented (bass clarinet courtesy of Alfred Harth, one of the Europeans possibly influenced during Dolphy's trip), also added are guitar, baritone sax (by the inimitable Mats Gustafsson), sho (a rare Japanese reed instrument played by international virtuoso Ko Ishikawa), electronic devices and piano. So while the melodies and spirit are in full attendance, there are often disturbing subtexts.
At times, the feeling is that of listening to the original Out To Lunch while a séance is going on to contact Dolphy's ghost, with supernatural sounds swirling around the stereo. The effect is disconcerting, as is the post-apocalyptic cloud hanging over the "arrangements," but it makes the effort more than an unnecessary tribute album. Instead, Dolphy is transported into the 21st Century and allowed to romp through modern developments in music. An inspiring concept and an album that will stretch the boundaries of anyone who comes into contact with it.
Track Listing: Hat And Beard; Something Sweet, Something Tender; Gazzelloni; Out To Lunch; Straight Up
And Down ~ Will Be Back.