Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Eric Dolphy: Out There

Recorded in August 1960 with a stellar band including the unheralded bassist George Duvivier, the great Ron Carter on cello (instead of his usual bass), and the incomparable drummer Roy Haynes, who is still with us and approaching 91, Out There is a standout recording in the short, but exceptional career of the amazing Eric Dolphy.

There are four originals and three covers on this amazing album, the second under his leadership through the New Jazz imprint from the Prestige label, including a work by Dolphy's frequent employer, Charles Mingus, and another by the excellent pianist/composer Randy Weston (whom this blogger saw at a great concert at Cal State Los Angeles back in the early to mid 90s).  Dolphy's pieces include a tribute to his mentor, Mingus, who styled himself as "Baron" (in comparison to "Duke" Ellington, "Count" Basie and other jazz royalty), the stunning title track, the gorgeous "Serene" and the flute-driven "17 West," referencing a place where Dolphy lived in Manhattan.

In addition to the always-stellar work of Haynes behind the kit, the pairing of Duvivier, who was a steady and reliable bassist, with Carter's cello provides a striking use of tonal and timbral diversity that makes this record really stand out.  Of course, Dolphy is just staggering in his inventiveness, variety of approaches, power, speed, and ability to play up-tempo and ballad pieces with great sensitivity and conviction.  It's sad that he was so reviled by critics stuck in the past and not willing to see beyond the tired conventions of bebop and post-bop orthodoxy that was still prevalent as the next, exciting and often chaotic Sixties ensued.

There also has to be something said about the very cool cover art done by Prophet. the moniker of artist Richard Jennings, who also did the Outward Bound cover and who was memorialized in one of Dolphy's greatest compositions, "The Prophet," highlighted on the great Live at the Five Spot album that will be featured here some day.

The original liner notes include a very interesting discussion about a common, but generally badly utilized, habit some people have of readily comparing one musician to another; in this case Dolphy to the great and recently-departed Ornette Coleman.  Rightfully expressing his dislike of this tendency, Dolphy made the point that Beethoven "was supposed to be a terrible person, and the writers of his time only talked about that.  But he created something, and what he created was beauty, and it's still alive today."

Now, whether it matters if the statement that all writers of Beethoven's time focused only on his personality, isn't the point.  What Dolphy was highlighting is the question of dwelling on a musician's persona when it is the music that counts and whether that body of work created will last.

In the case of this immensely talented multi-instrumentalist, recordings like Out There, Outward Bound, and especially the classic Out to Lunch! (the latter covered here before), as well as his contributions as members of the bands of Mingus and John Coltrane, should warrant that his posterity is recognized by being "still alive today."

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