Saturday, June 20, 2015

Satin Dolphy

Happy weekend! Today was a tough toss-up between two absolute musical titans, and presented a difficult choice. But let's save the post about the extraordinary and foundational erstwhile Beach Boy Brian Wilson for another June 20th. Today I decided to blog upon one of the true pillars of Jazz, replete with a truly beautiful concert comprising his very last recordings.
Today would have been the 87th birthday of Eric Dolphy, simply one of the most exquisite musicians (and by all accounts, humans) ever to grace this Earth. He only lived to be 36 years and 9 days old, but not a single second of that precious time went to waste.
It's almost impossible to describe the significance of this man unless you are familiar with his work. One of the musicians most revered by other musicians in American history, he has been tributed by heavyweights from Charles Mingus -- with whom he famously played and toured just months before he passed in one of the greatest groups ever to grace a bandstand -- to Frank Zappa, who named a composition after him (The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue) and claimed to have felt his influence most profoundly. When he died, his brass instruments were given to John Coltrane, his best friend, who played Eric's flute and bass clarinet until he passed in 1967.
Ah, yes. The flute and bass clarinet. Before Eric came along, the flute was used sparingly in Jazz and wasn't really thought of as much of an instrument of improvisation. The bass clarinet was nowhere to be found until he broke it out, on the (utterly, mind-alteringly astonishing) Coltrane set Live at the Village Vanguard from 1961. His use of these then-unusual axes completely altered the trajectory of what was acceptable in the music, especially for the flute, which became much more ubiquitous once he showed the way. This was nowhere more in evidence than on his tremendously influential 1964 opus, Out to Lunch, surely one of the most loved and obsessed-over Jazz LPs that will ever be made.
Out to Lunch, Ho. Lee. Shit. That is a record that totally changed my life, just speaking for myself. What gets you so deep about Eric's music is the elegance he renders from such a sophisticated and unusual harmonic approach. His harmonies often seem to owe just as much to Béla Bartók as they do to Charlie Parker. But there's nothing thorny or difficult about his stuff. He could play the most strangely dissonant, wide intervals and somehow imbue them with a sense that it was supposed to be this way and the fact that it was meant all was right with the world. He also swung like a rampaging beast.
This man, this man whose music moves people like no other in the pantheon of improvised music... just listening to this concert I am sharing today I am transfixed by the beauty and intricacy of the music on display. The tragic, wholly unnecessary (and yes, racist) circumstances of his early, untimely death -- he was an undiagnosed diabetic who collapsed on stage in Berlin 18 days after this recording and was taken to a hospital where the doctors just assumed he was a heroin-overdosed Jazzbo stereotype and erroneously gave him detox gear along with insulin -- do nothing to diminish the impact his music continues to pass down the ages to new players seeking new and fresh directions. Not just in Jazz, but across the board.
Which brings us, of course, to what I am going to share in honor of this exemplary musician and person today. His last record, unsurprisingly titled Last Date, is technically not the last recording he ever made. Nine days later he was taped by the ORTF in Paris, and the first four songs of the set have appeared on the famous European bootleg label Westwind over the years in various forms and releases, all out of print now except for a 2013 unofficial vinyl reissue. I bring you today the complete concert, including the last two songs... one of which is perhaps the most legendary performance of the Coltrane standard Naima ever recorded, with Eric taking the tune into absolutely uncharted territory with the bass clarinet. This show is 64 minutes of bliss and in complete form is considered the Holy Grail of his output.
Like I said at the top, today would have been Maestro Eric's 87th birthday, so I pulled this set out, dusted it off, and sprinkled a bit of sonic pixie dustings around to get it really humming. I felt it sounded a little flat at the high end, so I improved this with the Sound Forge 9 Graphic Dynamics tool, as well as removing most of the vinyl transcription crackle from the solo passages in Tracks 05 and 06, sourced as they were from another tape originally. I also tagged the files. This I feel brings this seminal date into clearer focus and I dare say until we get a legitimate, complete issue of it this will be the best version available of what amounts to an hour and four minutes of absolute ecstasy, at least for me.
Eric Dolphy Septet
Le Chat Qui Pêche
Paris, France

01 Springtime
02 245
03 G.W.
04 Serene
05 Ode to Charlie Parker
06 Naima

Total time: 1:04:39

Eric Dolphy - alto saxophone (Tracks 02 & 03), bass clarinet (Tracks 01, 04 & 06), flute (Track 05)
Donald Byrd - trumpet
Nathan Davis - tenor saxophone
Jack Diéval - piano
Jacques Hess - bass
Franco Manzecchi - drums
Jacky Bambou - congas (Tracks 02, 03 & 06)

probably two sets of FM master reels, remastered by me
There are no words to describe how awesome this set is and how much Eric Dolphy means to me, Jazz, and music in general. Pull this down and bask in the glow of absolutely unparalleled and elegant artistry at its finest, and remember to remember this incredible man, born this day in 1928.--J.
6.20.1928 - 6.29.1964