Eric Dolphy

Musical Prophet
Resonance Records HCD-2035

Dealing with a musical project like this is for instance not unlike how a scholar would approach a new edition of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps if heretofore unpublished material and alternate drafts were included in the publication.

Attractively recorded and packaged, including a 98-page booklet featuring interviews with the peers and musical descendents of Eric Dolphy (1928-1964) Musical Prophet includes a three-CD set consisting intact of two of the multi-instrumentalist’s most iconic 1963 LPs: Iron Man and Conversations; an entire disc of seven previously unissued alternate takes from the same sessions; plus three previous unissued bonus tracks. There are two takes of the formerly unknown “Muses for Richard Davis”, a duet between Dolphy on bass clarinet and bassist Davis from the same session that produced the long celebrated “Ode to Charlie Parker” and “Alone Together” tracks on the original LPs, plus a real oddity from the next year, 3½ months before Dolphy untimely death. It features the reedist as part of a New Music/improvised performance from Ann Arbor where his horns were used as contrapuntal voices on a composition by pianist Bob James, then still an experimenter and long before he became the Roger Williams of Smooth Jazz, with the other players bassist Ron Brooks, drummer Robert Pozar and countertenor (!) David Schwartz.

In a way it would be superfluous to comment on the reissued material, which has already attained classic status. In the same way variations of À la recherche du temps or a newly discovered director’s cut of Citizen Kane or new arrangement of The Rite of Spring wouldn’t challenge the elevated reputation of those certified masterpieces’ creators, so Iron Man and Conversations as well as Dolphy’s other musical documents won’t be altered by anything here. What they and a re-listening to the originally issued tracks confirm though is how well Dolphy, who had been a bopper in Los Angles and strayed into Cool Jazz in Chico Hamilton’s group, was able to straddle the then thought un-crossable territory between Bop and Free Jazz as well as meander into contemporary noted music.

Also notable is those early 1960s performances is how many among the 10 players featured – not counting the James ensemble – followed one path or another. Some, like saxophonist Clifford Jordan, trumpeter Woody Shaw, Davis and vibraharpist Bobby Hutcherson very shortly became full-fledged mainstreamers; while others – saxophonist Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons, drummers J.C. Moses and Charles Moffett and bassist Eddie Kahn are now more closely identified with the so-called avant-garde. Garvin Bushell, whose bassoon is used to provide a harmonic bottom to the massed horn section on “Iron Man”, “Mandrake” and “Burning Spear”, is a rara avis, which is appropriate for someone who had been a professional since the early 1920s. He was probably the only person to have played with both John Coltrane and Mamie Smith.

Reconfirming the excellence of the expected material first, Hutcherson’s mallet flights are lilting and powerful; Shaw’s tone brassy and vigorous, the massed reeds modulate with skill and sympathy and the bass-and-drum teams cleave to a solid rhythm. Freedom was still an adjective in 1963 not the entire program as it would be in the late 1960s. The duets between Davis and Dolphy are animated and show off a variety of textures from both players; and Dolphy’s sophisticated expositions and hair-trigger response to any sound from the others – on any of his instruments – is unmatched. None of the alternate takes are that different from the released versions. However Lasha and Simmons get more space on their features, but still don’t crowd Dolphy’s reed authority which takes the form of double-tonguing, wide intervallic leaps, without loss of the narrative thrust, plus sweet and/or sour garnishes when needed. Davis’ steady pumping is showcased in all versions of his duets with Dolphy, and it’s this mooring that allows the reedist to sweep and soar unfettered. The two variants of “Muses for Richard Davis” are fraternal twins of one another and close cousins to the previously released duet. Here ripostes from the bassist take the form of fluid, harmonized low pulses as Dolphy adds, dark snarls, key percussion and tongue snuffling. When Davis completes his part with violin-like staccato sweeps at the end of “Muses for Richard Davis (Previously Unissued 1” in response to a high-pitched multiphonics from Dolphy, it’s clear that had he wished Davis could easily have pursued more exploratory improvising.

In a class by itself is “A Personal Statement” from Ann Arbor. Schwartz’s high-pitched vocalizing and ruminations don’t faze Dolphy, who uses each of his horns in turn to construct the appropriate counterpoint to the penetrating male soprano-like pitch. Pozar’s sizzling drum pattern is prominent in the primary section, yet mid-way through all the instrumentalists turn to a recognizable Jazz-swing interface with a walking bas lines, clattering drums and James comping. Overall though, it appears as if Dolphy’s high-pitched alto saxophone runs and/or split tone bass clarinet slurps and growls are more closely allied to the irregularly pulsed New music than what James may have contemplated.

Offering new instances of Dolphy’s talent and skills and already appreciated expected and alternate version of some of his classic recordings, Musical Prophet lives up to its name and should engross most serious Jazz fans.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD 1: Conversations: 1. Jitterbug Waltz+#! 2. Music Matador^~% 3. Love Me 4. Alone Together~ 5. Muses for Richard Davis (Previously Unissued 1)~ 6. Muses for Richard Davis (Previously Unissued 2)~ CD 2: Iron Man: 1. Iron Man+^ &#! 2. Mandrake+^&#~ 3. Come Sunday~ 4. Burning Spear+^&#~! 5. Ode to Charlie Parker~ 6. A Personal Statement (Bonus Track)* CD 3: Previously Unissued Studio Recordings: 1. Music Matador (Alternate Take)^~% 2. Love Me (Alternate Take 1) 3. Love Me (Alternate Take 2) 4. Alone Together (Alternate Take)~ 5. Jitterbug Waltz (Alternate Take)+ 6. Mandrake (Alternate Take)+^ &7. Burning Spear (Alternate Take) +^&~!

Personnel: Woody Shaw + (trumpet); Clifford Jordan^ (soprano saxophone); Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet); Huey “Sonny” Simmons^(alto saxophone); William “Prince” Lasha+ (flute); Garvin Bushell& (bassoon); Bob James* (piano); Bobby Hutcherson# (vibes); Richard Davis~; Eddie Kahn!; Ron Brooks* (bass); J.C. Moses+’ Charles Moffett% (drums); Robert Pozar* (percussion); David Schwartz* (vocals)