Monday, August 23, 2010

Speaking of Eric Dolphy...

That earlier list is only a partial discography from 1961. He recorded other albums and classic shows with Trane, with Ron Carter, Mal Waldron, etc. I wonder if anyone else has ever had a hand in so many classic albums in such a short period.

What was it about Dolphy that made him so desirable as a sideman? After all, he isn't the kind of musician you'd necessarily choose if you're trying to assert your own voice. Dolphy's sound, on all of his instruments, is so distinct that his deep musical imprint is left indelibly on anything with which he's involved. Yet, some of the most powerful and personal, and yes assertive voices in the history of the music--Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman--chose Dolphy as their foil. Why?

Some musicians can immerse themselves in piece of music--really get inside it, become it. Seems to me Dolphy did the opposite. It was the music that was swallowed up by Dolphy. He was like a black box, a trip through which was apparently a rite of passage for those 60's searchers. Feed him any idea you've got and, i don't know what goes on in there, but Dolphy's fearless fire music invariably emerges. Congrats, your tunes now are tempered and ready for modern times.

I guess the greats preferred a sideman who would confront and maybe confound their musical sensibility, rather than disappear into it.

I remember reading a Stanley Crouch piece in which he calls Dolphy repetitive. Though I see it, I also think I understand why. I chalk it up to two factors: (1) that Dolphy was in fact so prolific. Recording as often as he did, more often than not someone else's music, it's not surprising that he fell back on a number of devices, phrases, quotes, etc. Tellingly, the better the raw material, the more original the result (see, e.g., any collaboration with Mingus).

More importantly, (2) Dolphy spoke his very own musical language, one that he constructed himself, which he honed ceaselessly. Innovators on that scale often spend a lifetime revisiting and fine-tuning their initial breakthrough. Dolphy did that. So I don't hold his repetition against him. His message bears repeating.

But for all the Dolphy we have on record, it wasn't until a few months before his death that we got his first masterpiece and one of my favorite albums of all time. Out to Lunch is a triumph of all the ideas Dolphy developed. It's just so perfectly off. For me, it stirs up a sort of paranoia, like wandering down some strange alley in the dead of a rainy night. It puts all of Dolphy's tendency to angularity, jagged rhythms, vocalizations to perfect thematic use. I love it.

It's the album by which I think Dolphy needs to be judged and far from repetition, it's unlike anything that came before it.

I had planned on writing something longer on Eric Dolphy, but just as I started drafting it, Matt Lavelle posted this. And he said everything I could have hoped to say, better than I could have hoped to say it. So I'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

R.I.P. Abbey Lincoln

Been listening to her absolute masterpiece, Straight Ahead, on repeat. For $6 on itunes and amazon, it's well worth picking up if you don't already own it.

On a related note, Max Roach's bands from this period deserve more attention. Consider that in 1961, Max Roach and some variation of his working band recorded Straight Ahead, Booker Little's Out Front Roach's own Percussion Bitter Sweet and Eric Dolphy's immortal Five Spot performances.

Eric Dolphy, by the way, played on all four records and, in the same year, played on Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth and played on and arranged Trane's Africa/Brass. Oh, and stopped in for a few sets at the Vanguard..