Monday, January 21, 2019

New Recordings of Eric Dolphy from Resonance

courtesy of Braithwaite & Katz Communications

This coming Friday Resonance Records will release Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions, a “deluxe” three-CD album of recording sessions led by Eric Dolphy on July 1 and 3 of 1963. Those sessions resulted in two albums, Conversations and Iron Man. Several factors make this a “deluxe” release. There are two pieces that were never included on these albums (one for each album); and the third CD offers a generous supply of alternate takes of tracks from both of the albums. This all comes to 85 minutes of material that has not be previously released.

In addition, there is a 96-page booklet that includes rare and unpublished photographs, essays, and interviews. This is a valuable source of background information (which would have been even more valuable had the editors decided to include a table of contents for the essays and interviews). As can be expected, currently has a Web page for pre-ordering this release.

Dolphy was, of course, a prodigious multi-instrumentalist. At these sessions he alternated among alto saxophone, flute, and bass clarinet. Ten other musicians are listed as having participated; but only one of them performed extensively with Dolphy over the lion’s share of the tracks. That was bassist Richard Davis, who is the only musician to play with Dolphy in Arthur Schwartz’ “Alone Together,” the longest track on Conversations with a slightly shorter track in the one alternate take on the third CD. Furthermore, the two additional tracks on the Conversations CD are two takes of “Muses for Richard Davis,” which Roland Hanna wrote for Davis’ debut album. Both of these takes sound very much as if Davis and Dolphy felt a need to continue the “conversation” that had begun over “Alone Together.”

These days I no longer seem to get the raised eyebrows that used to react whenever I would casually mention listening to works by composers such as John Cage, Morton Feldman, or La Monte Young. It is now half a century since Dolphy’s tragic death on June 29, 1964; but I still run into people who sidle away if I want to talk about either his compositions or his partnerships with jazz giants such as Charles Mingus and John Coltrane. I would like to believe that such folks don’t think very much of “alternative performance techniques” (or think that they are fine in modern music recitals but not on jazz recordings).

The fact is that Dolphy was fearless about pushing envelopes. This involved not only adventurous approaches to improvisation but also provocative experiments in evoking unfamiliar sonorities from familiar instruments. It is easy to dismiss these as evidence that he could not play his instruments very well, but there are too many tracks that provide too much evidence to the contrary to let his detractors get away with that claim.

The track added to the Iron Man album did not come from either of the two July sessions. It was recorded in Ann Arbor of March 2, 1964 in the studios of WUOM, the non-commercial radio station licensed to the University of Michigan. This was when that university was hosting the ONCE Festival of New Music, founded by Robert Ashley, George Cacioppo, Gordon Mumma, Roger Reynolds, and Donald Scavarda, all of whom were based in Ann Arbor at that time. Dolphy participated in some of those festivals, meaning that he was probably rubbing shoulders with not only the founders but also the likes of adventurous composers such as Pauline Oliveros and David Behrman.

The track recorded in 1964 was called “A Personal Statement.” It was composed by pianist Bob James around a text recited by David Schwartz. It was very reflective of a simmering political climate that would soon be coming to a boil. Dolphy played all three of his instruments, joined by Ron Brooks on bass and Robert Pozar on percussion. At over fifteen minutes in duration, this is a highly politicized offering that is likely to appeal to those who remember what the Sixties were about to become. Listening to that track today is likely to feel like stepping into a time machine to those of my generation; but the memories are poignant in today’s setting in which, thanks to how easy it is to abuse Internet services, the only voices that matter seem to be those of the brutes that shout the loudest.

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