Eric Dolphy: The Great Concert,
Through most of the 1950s and at least half of the sizzling sixties, it was Prestige Record's business and pleasure to record dozens of the jumpingest jazz artists of those days. Vinyl artifacts aptly stamped "Prestige" came copiously from the likes of John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, The MJQ, and Eric Dolphy. Over the years popular interest in these recordings died for numerous reasons and members of the cult that retained interest, and occasional wide earred new initiates, felt fortunate indeed to come by chance upon a black pearl like "Eric Dolphy, In Europe, Vol. 2" amongst the slop for sale in supermarket bargain bins.
Well, the people at Prestige (as well as Fantasy and Milestone) have correctly reckoned the commercial and aesthetic value of reissuing these little beauties and have made many of them available in two-record sets - two for the price of 1 and 1/2 or between $5-$6 around town. Their most recent re-release is The Great Concert of Eric Dolphy, Prestige 34002-3, a three record set recorded live one hot summer night in 1961 at New York City's late, lamented Five Spot.
1961 was almost the beginning of both social and musical upheavals whose effects are still being felt. Musically, Be-bop was stagnant, Charlie Parker was dead. Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and John Coltrane were alive and screaming. And so were Eric Dolphy and Booker Little. Along with Mal Waldron, piano; Richard Davis, bass; and Eddie Blackwell, drums; those two battled beautifully for two weeks at the Five Spot to create order from chaos or new order from the old order. That year, Eric was voted new star on alto sax, flute, and bass clarinet, simultaneously, by the Down Beat International Critics' Poll (one of the few hip things they've ever done) and we hear him generously on all three horns in this collection.
Eric was firmly committed to the New Music and played free and human-sounding; a particular goal of his vision was to put the human voice back into the music. His work on bass clarinet, an instrument he introduced to the jazz community, is especially moving throughout, and on such cuts as "Bee Vamp" or "Booker's Waltz" Eric manages to range from the burlesque to the painfully beautiful to the simply painful. Booker Little, the 23-year old trumpet flash who was to die of uremia three months after this date was done, evidently was trying to integrate both school-learned elements and his free impulses and/but manages to burn. Mal Waldron and Richard Davis are individually brilliant and imaginative and contribute juicily to the unit although their music at the time was not quite as high as Eric and Booker's. But Eddie Blackwell had been drumming and driving for several years with Ornette and is in there all the time ka-ch-ch-chinking.
There's a lot of music here. Music that was and is both a reflection of the reality that was and a definition of what it was to be. Listen and discover the pleasure and insight that comes with going forward into the past.
- Bill Adler