Important Recordings By Ornette Coleman’s sidemen…


Out To Lunch

Feb. 25, 1964, Blue Note Records: RVG Edition 7243 4 98793 2 4

1. Hat And Beard                                            8:22
2. Do Something Sweet, Something Tender   6:00
3. Gazzelloni                                                    7:18
4. Out To Lunch                                              12:05
5. Straight Up And Down                                 8:19

Eric Dolphy was an interesting, if not controversial figure, in jazz music during his brief professional life. An unusually gifted technician, he was at once capable of the most sophisticated, orthodox traditional jazz pattern and the most theoretically complicated abstraction, occasionally both within the same 8 bar phrase. He was both a colorist and a technician on equal terms, and this recording (Dolphy’s last) is probably the most famous of his output. It also demonstrates to the contrary a common criticism of free jazz, that it is all just “made up” or that there is “nothing to it”. Like many other recordings of free jazz of this era, the album is made up of songs with defined theoretical form and structure, with the “free” part being the solo section or the choice of improvisatory material one used over or (figuratively) in spite of a set of prescribed chord changes. The opening track Hat and Beard starts with a unison horn shot at once followed by a bass figure in 9/4 which is copied briefly by bass clarinet and vibes (creating a delightful, noirish Sam Spade-novel-after hours-jazz sound), before a countering group theme and a unison comping line shared by the bass and vibes. Then, Eric Dolphy begins his bass clarinet solo over Richard Davis’ improvised bass figures utilizing the original bass theme. Dolphy’s solo is the classic definition of “free” jazz as he swoops and shrieks through the range of his instrument. During this time the bass and drums are both holding time and improvising, but Dolphy is the only lead instrument improvising, and the rhythms section is still creating as much a supporting background for Dolphy as they are creating their own unique shapes and figures. The lead / backup idea from traditional jazz forms is still clearly in play here, and like other recordings of this era, demonstrates free jazz was a music of going beyond boundaries, not being rid of them; of using abstraction, not abandoning form entirely.

The music itself is not only pleasant to listen to; it is an interesting document of Dolphy’s singular voice in the pantheon of jazz. Hat and Beard is a pleasant, cyclic theme, which is made both pretty and abstract by Bobby Hutcherson’s understated vibe playing. This mood is contrasted by the entrance of Dolphy’s bass clarinet improvisations, which are at once more ascending and descending washes of color and sound than the melodic extemporization demonstrated by Freddie Hubbard in the solo following Dolphy’s. This high contrast manner of playing is what Eric Dolphy was both praised and vilified for, not energy music in total, but sections or cells of energy music contained within structure and harmony. The rest of the album’s participants use a creative combination of traditional rhythms, modes, and thematic materials for their improvising, making Dolphy’s idiosyncratic style standing out in high relief.


Complete Communion

Dec. 24, 1965, Blue Note 22673 / 7243 5 22673 2 3

a. Complete Communion
b. And Now
c. Golden Heart
d. Remembrance
2. ELEPHANTASY                    19:36
a. Elephantasy
b. Our Feelings
c. Bishmallah
d. Wind, Sand, and Stars

This recording by pocket-cornettist Don Cherry (father of pop stars Neneh, and Eagle-Eye) is an excellent example of what may be described as part of the early aesthetic of free jazz begun with Ornette Coleman, continued in Cherry’s recordings as a leader or with Old And New Dreams . There is a certain ebullient quality to the music on this recording that is reminiscent of earlier compositions by Coleman (Congeniality, Peace), a buoyancy created by the use of 4/4 swing rhythm and walking bass structures which had not been abandoned by Cherry and Coleman as they eventually were by others experimenting with the idea of “total” freedom (John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders). This use of swing style feel and blues based themes (the Our Feelings* section of Elephantasy, etc) are countered by Barbieri’s high energy sound explorations, creating a rather exciting mix of both abstraction and traditional jazz feel. While Cherry chooses to abstract the thematic material more closely than Barbieri, both performers create distinct types of free jazz that do not seem out of place with each other. In this context, Barbieri’s energy music may seem less “unmusical” or “chaotic”, as there is a gestalt background of swing/blues feel behind it to put it in what may be for some a more listenable context than what would eventually be come to be considered the ‘mark’ of a free jazz recording, pure abstraction by all instruments simultaneously (as aptly demonstrated by Albert Ayler’s “Greenwich Village” recordings).

*Our Feelings” has since gone on to be a popular theme for free jazz musicians to perform as a song unto itself.


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