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Eric Dolphy- Out to Lunch! (1964)

Updated: May 9

Eric Dolphy - Out To Lunch!

(Blue Note)

Released August 1964

Recorded on February 25, 1964

About Eric Dolphy

Eric Dolphy was a wizard on the bass clarinet, alto saxophone, flute, and one of jazz's most distinctly original instrumentalists. While much of Dolphy's Music falls into the "free jazz" category, his music was not without form or structure. Dolphy was a trained musician who could often display his ties to swing, bebop, and twentieth-century classical music. His solo style often showcased wide, wild, intervallic, and "irregular" angular phrases. His unique and highly personalized playing style afforded Dolphy a recording career as a leader. It brought Dolphy to the attention of other jazz masters like Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, with whom he often collaborated.

Dolphy’s Early Life and Career

Eric Dolphy was born in Los Angeles, California, and at an early age, he began to play the oboe and the clarinet. After studying music at the University of Southern California and Los Angeles City College, Dolphy joined the modernistic group Roy Porter's 17 Beboppers and recorded several albums. He then entered the Army, continuing his training at the Navy School of Music. By 1958, Dolphy began working as a member of Chico Hamilton's Quintet, a forward-looking jazz unit.

In 1960, Dolphy started working and recording with Charles Mingus, one of jazz's most innovative composers and bassists. After jamming with John Coltrane several times, Dolphy briefly joined John Coltrane's group in 1961. He also formed connections with other forward-looking jazz musicians like Ornette Coleman, Booker Little, George Russell, Oliver Nelson, and others with whom he also recorded. By 1964, Dolphy settled in Europe, where he enjoyed a fan base that seemed to have a deeper appreciation for his African American musicians and blend of jazz.

About Out To Lunch!

As a leader, Dolphy began showcasing his personalized music and composition on record in 1960 on several smaller jazz labels like New Jazz, Prestige, and Candid. In 1964, Dolphy signed with Blue Note Records and released his signature album, Out To Lunch!, which showcased five Dolphy originals played by a brilliant ensemble that included trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Tony Williams. Although there were written structures to the tunes, Dolphy encouraged the musicians to play in an open conversational format allowing the musicians to stretch and explore. Due to the nature of the distinct musical personalities of each individual, the musicians came together to create one of the finest jazz albums of the 1960s.

Dolphy’s Death

Sadly Eric Dolphy would die unexpectantly the same year as the release of Out To Lunch! at only the age of 36. During a gig at the opening of the Berlin Jazz club called The Tangent on June 27, 1964, Dolphy arrived seriously ill. He struggled to play the concert and was hospitalized. While there have been some wild conspiracies regarding his death, it is generally believed that Dolphy had diabetes, a condition he was unaware of. His illness resulted from his diabetes, but Dolphy was treated as if he had overdosed on drugs instead of being treated or tested for a diabetic condition. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Dolphy lived clean, absent from drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. By making assumptions based on his profession and race, doctors may have given Dolphy detox medication instead of the insulin treatment he required, and he died of a diabetic coma. Although he had a remarkable career, Dolphy was on the precipice of becoming the leader of a more heavily recognized jazz innovator at the time of his death, but as his headstone accurately states, "He Lives in His Music." Awards: DownBeat Jazz Hall Of Fame.

Side 1

(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)

Track 1- "Hat and Beard" refers to jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk who often wore cool hats and had a beard. His music was highly original, as was Dolphy's. The song begins with a walking bass line that Dolphy then mimics on the bass clarinet before a prearranged melody is offered (:56). The usage of vibes instead of guitar and piano as the principal harmonic entity adds a dreamlike effect. At around 1:27, Dolphy unleashed an impassioned bass clarinet solo that almost offers the imagery of animal calls. Trumpet master Freddie Hubbard then enters with his solo against a backdrop of experimental bass lines by Richard Davis and shifting time feels provided by Tony Williams (3:20). Hutcherson offers a spacious vibe solo against the bowed bass lines of Davis and some bushwork by Williams (5:30). The album concludes with a melodic statement played by Dolphy and Hubbard and a return to the bass figures offered by Dolphy and Davis. This is some "out" stuff (+).

Track 2- "Something Sweet, Something Tender" is a ballad that begins by showcasing Dolphy, and Davis, who is playing bowed and fragmented chords (1:00). Davis then returns to pizzicato (plucked), playing. Dolphy and Hubbard present the melody of the tune. Dolphy plays a pretty intense solo, displaying his technique and style on the bass clarinet against the fragmented bass line and colorations provided by Hutcherson and Williams (2:10). The unit returns to the written melodic statement (3:15). Dolphy plays unaccompanied before playing a duet with Davis in which the bassist displays his classical training and fantastic intonation as an arco (bowed) player (4:35), the track concludes with a short return of all the musicians before a fade.(+)

Track 3- "Gazzelloni" was inspired by classical flutist Servino Gazzeloni and showcased Dolphy's flute playing. On the liner notes, Dolphy reveals, "Everybody holds the construction for the first 13 bars and then freedom." Dolphy unleashes his solo (:40). By shifting time and rhythmic feels, the unit helps Dolphy move into various melodic directions. Hubbard then enters with a flurry of notes leading into his solo. The rhythm sections continue a fantastic conversation that breaks from traditional time feel playing (2:55). Hutcherson begins his improvisation by offering some large intervallic leaps and thematic rhythmic fragments (4:20). Richard Davis showcases why he is one of the most creative and skilled of all jazz bassists during his solo, which begins with a series of double stops (fragmented chords) (5:40). The written line returns at 6:30 (+)

Side 2

Track 1- "Out To Lunch" is over 12 minutes of jazz explorations. The piece begins with a marching drum beat followed by an angular melodic statement from Dolphy (on sax) and Hubbard. Early on (:50), Dolphy rips a highly experimental solo that lasts a while. During their rhythmic conversation, Williams and Davis are all over the map, with Hutcherson dropping the occasional chord on the vibes. Next, Hubbard unleashes a fiery solo (3:15). At about 5:47, it is Davis' turn to take the lead, where he plays some morse code-sounding rhythms while displaying the full range of the bass. Hutcherson plays a solo on top of the bassist throughout his improvisation, creating a conversation between vibes and bass. Williams briefly removes himself from the conversation and only then chimes in occasionally with short rhythmic figures (7:28). Then Richard Davis is left alone to create alone, and he plays some pretty wild stuff (10:00). After some time, Dolphy, Williams, and Hubbard return with fragmented trading solo statements. The piece concludes with a return to the written line (11:32).

Track 2- "Straight Up and Down" begins with a fragmented bluesy groove. It sounds as if the blues was intoxicated. Dolphy takes the first solo on alto (1:00). Hubbard follows (3:17) and continues to impress with his technique and inventiveness. Davis and Williams dig into a broken funk feel at one point during the solo; they really connect on this album. Hutcherson is then given some space to create (5:55), where he plays some of his most technical playing on the record. Things then break down to only Hutcherson and Davis before the band breaks back into the melody (7:41). If I knew it could be this satisfying, I would go out to lunch more often with this group of musicians! (+)

In Conclusion:

Out To Lunch! is one of Dolphy’s most outstanding achievements, showcasing a creative and daring spirit that broke from mainstream jazz traditions. Dolphy’s talents as a bass clarinetist, flutist, alto saxophonist, and bandleader are entirely on display throughout Out To Lunch!

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