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Eric Dolphy's 'Musical Prophet' Reissue Is Both Adventurous And Catchy

Jan 25, 2019
Originally published on January 28, 2019 1:11 pm
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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. In July 1963, jazz saxophonist, flutist and bass clarinetist Eric Dolphy recorded a pair of sessions for record producer Alan Douglas, who later would produce Jimi Hendrix. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says a proper reissue of these sessions was long overdue.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC DOLPHY, WOODY SHAW AND BOBBY HUTCHERSON PERFORMANCE OF FATS WALLER'S "JITTERBUG WALTZ")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Eric Dolphy on flute with 18-year-old Woody Shaw on trumpet on Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz." The leader didn't write much music for his two-day July 1963 session. But the best of it is prime Dolphy. Recorded seven months before his masterwork "Out To Lunch," the music has a similar tough but floating rhythm feel thanks to Bobby Hutcherson's percussive vibraphone. Dolphy, as always, sounds ready to go from the jump - the guy you can't hold back. He's on alto saxophone for his own tune "Iron Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC DOLPHY'S "IRON MAN")

WHITEHEAD: Eric Dolphy's July 1963 dates yielded two LPs on different labels - "Iron Man" and "Conversations." Except for one vinyl compilation in the '70s, they've always been reissued separately. Until the new three CD set "Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions." It includes the catchiest tune ever, "Music Matador," written by two players on the date, saxophonist Sonny Simmons and flutist Prince Lasha. That's Dolphy rasping on bass clarinet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC DOLPHY'S "MUSIC MATADOR")

WHITEHEAD: You can hear Jack DeJohnette's later band's "Special Edition" coming in those joyful horns. Richard Davis plays bass though, as he would on "Out To Lunch." One day of recording was devoted to duets for Davis' bass and Dolphy's bass clarinet, including a reverent take on Duke Ellington's hymn "Come Sunday."

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC DOLPHY'S "COME SUNDAY")

WHITEHEAD: It sounds like Dolphy knew the words to that. Other players who come and go include bassist Eddie Khan, drummers J.S. Moses and Charles Moffett and saxophonist Clifford Jordan. The settings range from 10-tet to solo saxophone. Dolphy's angular intro and outro to the solo "Love Me" connect him to next-wave Chicagoans Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC DOLPHY'S "LOVE ME")

WHITEHEAD: The set "Musical Prophet" includes a batch of alternate takes, where the musicians hone the material - confirming all the best takes were already out. There's a fat booklet, where collaborators and admirers reflect on Dolphy's music - though there are a few misidentifications a rudimentary fact check would have weeded out, and the list of who plays on which pieces is not totally accurate. But as I say, the best of the music is choice. Adventurous playing and catchy tunes - what's not to like?

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC DOLPHY'S "BURNING SPEAR")

BIANCULLI: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed the reissue "Eric Dolphy - Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions." Coming up, Alan Alda - he'll receive the life achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild on Sunday. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRUNO COULAIS' "SPINK AND FORCIBLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.