This oft-reissued set still makes an ideal stocking-stuffer for several reasons beyond Eric Dolphy's continuing iconic stature.
First off is its amazing diversity, a batch of material ranging from formative, definitive free-bop ensemble performances to free duets with then—emerging bass giant Richard Davis. Actually, many of these musicians, including Bobby Hutcherson, Woody Shaw and Sonny Simmons, were just beginning to be heard at this time and everyone's playing is as fresh as it would ever be.
Perhaps this freshness is due, in part, to Dolphy's being allowed to record whatever he wanted to at the time, rather than trying to fit his playing and composing into someone else's concept. As producer Alan Douglas said several years ago, "Eric came in and we had a long talk. He had much more material than I could place in a particular context, so I suggested, 'Why don't we just go in the studio and do all the stuff that's in your head?'"
Part of what was in his head suggests the freedom of Ornette Coleman coupled with sophisticated harmonic ideas and fearless rhythms that swing into the beyond. Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" is juiced up considerably, while "Music Matador" integrates four reeds with several South-of-the-border rhythmic approaches to come up with a unique recipe. "Burning Spear" is reminiscent of Coltrane's "Africa" or perhaps a Sun Ra march.
The duets, in particular, point towards the future. Acoustic bass-bass clarinet pairings were unheard of in the early '60s, yet Dolphy and Davis pull off their extended intertwining with aplomb. "Come Sunday" (alto sax and bass) and "Ode to C.P." (flute and bass) demonstrate not only Dolphy's distinct personalities on each of his instruments but the gorgeous tone of Davis' bass, whether plucked or bowed.
Add the solo alto sax track, "Love Me," and the historical place of this music becomes clear. Dolphy would, sadly, not be around long enough to develop many of these ideas further himself, but the AACM—Braxton, Threadgill, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and others—would and did for the remainder of the 20th century. Of course, many 21st century ears will enjoy these albums as well.
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