Recorded just a few months before his untimely death from uremia in Berlin in 1964, Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch is a phenomenal combination of fine originals by the leader and a stellar band of some of the greatest musicians of the era.
Joining Dolphy, who, as usual, is featured on several instruments, including alto sax, flute and bass clarinet, are trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and a tremendous rhythm section of bassist Richard Davis and teenage sensation Tony Williams on drums. In fact, Davis and Williams take full advantage of the freedom and opportunities given them by Dolphy's excellent compositions and arrangements, for which, as with his playing, he was given so little credit and recognition.
The Thelonious Monk tribute, "Hat and Beard," has a cool, start with Williams' cymbal work setting the rhythmic tone and then Dolphy's circular clarinet lines quietly stating its own rhythm, soon joined by Hutcherson's vibes. Hubbard and Dolphy have tight harmonics on the interesting, innovative theme before the leader launches into a crazy solo, full of the inventiveness, vigor, unusual note combinations and other dynamics, including human-like cries and moans, that made him controversial then, but still fresh and new just about a half-century later.
The melancholy ballad "Something Sweet, Something Tender" has a great bowed opening by Davis accompanying Dolphy's clarinet playing and Hubbard does an excellent job harmonizing with the leader on the theme that follows. There is another great Dolphy solo
"Gazzeloni" is an opportunity for Dolphy to demonstrate his flutistry (if that is a word) and Davis' well-executed walking lines and Williams' signature cymbal work and solid, understated fills are perfect accompaniments for Dolphy's otherworldly theme statement and his wild and staggering solo work that follows. But, as interesting is the eerie playing of Hutcherson, whose placement of sounds is unusual, but highly compelling. Hubbard's solo is somewhat conventional, given the setting, pieces and players, but he does a great job trying to extend his playing beyond what he was usually doing at the time, being one of the busiest players in jazz. Hutcherson gets to solo towards the end of the piece and, while nicely done, it seems less noteworthy than his accompaniment during Dolphy's solo.
The title track is a march set in motion by Williams before the theme comes in with Hutcherson's off-kilter and repetitious playing standing out while Dolphy and Hubbard again play in unison. Then, there is another mind-numbing solo on the alto by the leader. Davis is wide-ranging here, plucking in the upper and lower registers of the bass with subtlety and invention, while Williams does his usual excellent job of keeping rhythm with powerful snare hits, rolls and fills and that amazing cymbal playing. Here, Hubbard seems more assertive and comfortable in his lengthy solo, perhaps because of the stronger rhythmic foundation laid down by Hutcherson, Davis and Williams, who follow Hubbard with what could be described as simultaneous soloing, though avoiding formal steady rhythms permeates the entire record anyway.
"Straight Up and Down" might be an ironic title for the unusual theme that opens the tune and which is played longer than the head arrangements on the other tracks and Dolphy heads into the stratosphere with another careening, speech-like solo on alto that capsulizes all of the interesting colorations and devices that characterized his short, but startling career, then in essentially his fifth year as a bandleader. Hubbard's solo, again, sounds traditional when following the leader, but it does show that he was earnestly trying to work in the "out there" environment Dolphy was creating and the trumpeter should get more credit for the effort--the solo comes out well.
Speaking of "out there," that was a title on earlier record, another Dolphy classic to be featured here someday, put out by Prestige Records and which, like Out to Lunch with its absurdist photo of a "Will Be Back" sign at a restaurant with hands pointing in all directions, was intended to spotlight Dolphy as a true "avant gardist," working far outside the bounds of "traditional" jazz. Perhaps, but Dolphy took far too much hostile criticism for what turned out to be adventurous, creative, and well thought-put advances in a music that had been in a pretty stale repetitive doldrums of bop for almost fifteen years by the time he began making his own records.
Out to Lunch proved to be Eric Dolphy's greatest album, though, as in all cases with someone who dies too soon, who knows what he would have done when so-called "free jazz" really took off in subsequent years. In any case, this is a fabulous recording that shows free playing can be done with great inventiveness, arranging and playing by a fantastic band and one of the great, unsung leaders in jazz history.
Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch (Blue Note, 1964)
1. Hat and Beard 8:24
2. Something Sweet, Something Tender 6:02
3. Gazzelloni 7:22
4. Out to Lunch 12:06
5. Straight Up and Down 8:19