Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions

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The music on these three records was stored in a suitcase given to flautist James Newton by Dolphy shortly before he departed for Europe never to return alive. He died in a Berlin hospital when medical staff failed to notice that he was in dire need of insulin for untreated diabetes at just 36 years old.

The collection is made up from two LPs made in 1963 and expanded with a full disc of alternate takes plus some previously unissued music from the two sessions. “Jitterbug Waltz” kicks off the set with some intense, stunning flute work from Dolphy, strong trumpet by Woody Shaw – making his debut on record – and a fine contribution by Bobby Hutcherson. “Music Matador” has Dolphy playing in the twisting, swirling bass clarinet style he mastered so well. This track has an African flavour and features Lasha, Simmons and bassist Eddie Khan.

Dolphy’s solos here and on several selections follow the line of field hollers one minute and wild, free improvisation the next. “Love Me” was once a ballad but here becomes an exhaustive workout for solo alto sax that is indeed exhausting in its complexity and wild invention. The most unusual track is “A Personal Statement” which has Dolphy playing all his instruments in sequence and David Schwartz singing in a counter tenor voice. 

“Alone Together” sounds like a comprehensive rehearsal for the close integration between bass clarinet and double bass that Dolphy and Richard Davis achieved on “Something Sweet Something Tender” on Out to Lunch for Blue Note, eight months later. If anything this version of “Alone” and the alternate are even more involved and fascinating if not quite so musically satisfying. The two versions of “Muses for Richard Davis” continue the impressive musical empathy these two shared. They are important musical documents that are previously unreleased. If Out to Lunch was Dolphy’s master recording (and many agree that it was), these tracks were certainly the build up towards that disc and the presence of Hutcherson and Davis on much of this material was crucial to its success. 

“Iron Man”, “Mandrake” and “Burning Spear” feature a nine-piece band with Simmons, Lasha, Hutcherson, Shaw and Moses which has the leader on bass clarinet at his most acerbic, virtuosic best, tearing up and down the range of the instrument at will and probably still frightening those old critics that labelled him anti-jazz in the 1960s. They said the same about Coltrane too! “Come Sunday” is a standout track with Dolphy and Davis interpreting the Ellington piece in their own unique and often quite startling way. “Ode to Charlie Parker” shows Dolphy at his most conventional and lyrical with a warm solo flute outing. As Dolphy was a musician who rarely repeated himself, the alternate takes here are extremely valuable as (new) unheard music.

This set is a well-presented limited edition with a 20-page booklet containing interviews with musicians directly inspired by Dolphy, although Robin D G Kelley’s essay is the most informative read. Bernie Grundman has mastered the LP discs for ultimate sound reproduction and the CD reproduction is also to a high standard. Vinyl is available now at time of writing and the CD set and digital download are released 25 January 2019.

Discography
LP1: Jitterbug Waltz; Music Matador; Love Me; Alone Together; Muses for Richard Davis (unissued 1); Muses for Richard Davis (unissued 2) (49.38)
LP2: Iron Man; Mandrake; Come Sunday; Burning Spear; Ode to Charlie Parker; A Personal Statement ( 55.30)
LP2: Music Matador; Love Me (alt 1) ; Love Me (alt 2); Alone Together (alt); Jitterbug Waltz (alt); Mandrake (alt); Burning Spear (alt) (56.39)
Dolphy (as, f, bcl) with collectively: William “Prince” Lasha (f); Huey “Sonny” Simmons (as); Clifford Jordan (ss); Woody Shaw (t); Garvin Bushell (bsn); Bobby Hutcherson (vib); Richard Davis, Eddie Kahn (b); J.C. Moses, Charles Moffett (d). 1 & 3 July 1963, Music Maker’s Studios, New York City except bonus track A Personal Statement: Dolphy (as, bcl f), Bob James (p, composer), Ron Brooks (b), Robert Pozar (pc) and David Schwartz (v). Ann Arbor, MI, 2 March 1964.
Resonance HLP-9035 LPs / Resonance HCD-2035 three CDs