Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Intervallic Overdrive: Eric Dolphy 90

We're starting out something like 8 posts in 7 days today, with an ultra-milestone birthday post about one of the most influential American musicians ever to be born.
He was only nine days past his 36th birthday when he suddenly and tragically passed under horrifying circumstances entirely not his fault, but what he left behind has challenged the harmonic conceptions and choices of every instrumentalist -- not just saxophonists -- ever since.
It is said that he freed the be-bop harmony scheme the rest of the way, integrating 12-tone serialism and the twists of Bartók and Varèse into his approach. But his importance and why he is so revered so many years after having lived have to do with much more than that.
Before he came on the scene, the instrumentation of Jazz was pretty set. He brought horns like the bass clarinet and winds like the flute, which up to that time hadn't really had much of a foothold, but over which now no one bats an eye at their inclusion.
But it's really down to his compositions and their use of unusual harmony, and how that intervallic breadth of suggestion opened the floodgates to complete freedom in the music as the Sixties progressed.
He also joined bands. Really great ones. Some of the best ever to take a stage in this world. Not many could say they popped back and forth between John Coltrane and Charles Mingus in their day, and also played on hits for Sammy Davis, Jr. Actually no one can say that, save today's honoree born this day in 1928: reed deity Eric Dolphy.
One of his records, Out to Lunch, is oft mentioned among the greatest Jazz recordings ever made. His solos on that 'Trane 1961 Village Vanguard stuff have sent millions of aspiring players out to the woodshed, horns slung sadly on their shoulders like wandering souls. That Mingus 1964 tour he died on? I dunno music will ever get better than that if we as a species live to the year 10,064.
Speaking of those '64 shows and the legendary status they enjoy -- if I believed in Jesus, I'd be thanking Him right now that most of them got taped for European radio -- I've got one for you today. This one is special because the band -- including Eric! -- had to be freed from jail in Copenhagen to perform it.
I'll let you download the set and hear Charlie's (yes, they are hilarious) explanations of what happened and how they got there that day and whatnot, which he gives between tunes. Suffice to say this is an essential document of history and the idea that there isn't a full, official box set containing each and every one of these European concerts is testimony to the suicidal, wholly misprioritized inefficacy of the human species.
Charles Mingus Sextet
Store Sal
Odd Fellow Palæet
Copenhagen, Denmark
4.14.1964

01 intro with 2 false starts
02 So Long Eric
03 intro
04 AT FW USA 
05 intro
06 Orange Was the Color Of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk
07 Meditations On Integration
08 Ow!
09 Fables of Faubus

Total time: 2:11:56
disc break goes after Track 07

Charles Mingus - bass
Eric Dolphy - alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute
Clifford Jordan -  tenor saxophone
Johnny Coles - trumpet
Jaki Byard - piano
Dannie Richmond - drums

master pre-FM mono reels from Danish radio
 532 MB FLAC here
Well, we can sort of capture the ghost of it... I mean I personally know people who have transcribed Eric's solos from several of these 1964 shows and can bring them to life again in his absence, anyway. But he's right in the overarching sense that it can never be played the same exact way, even in attempted duplication, again.
I'll be here again for the next few days like I said, with all kinds of mindmelting nonsense. For now we tribute what would have been the 90th birthday of this legendary reedsmith, knowing that although we said So Long so long ago, what he put down during his brief time will never, ever leave here.--J.
6.20.1928 - 6.29.1964