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Out There by Eric Dolphy

Listening to Eric Dolphy is like being trapped in an endless labyrinth filled with abstract paintings whose images are supposed to give you a hint to the question, "So, how do I get out?". But Eric Dolphy, allegedly the most benign icon in jazz history, is no minotaur, even though his legacy is itself monstrous. You might think that with a title like Out There (Dolphy's second CD, recorded in 1960), the music would be inaccessible to the average jazz audiophile. However, when compared to the more decorated Out to Lunch (1964), Out There is fairly innocuous. For one thing, the "Mingus influence" looms large. Dolphy had just come off an extended 1960 summer tour with Mingus, which included a date in Antibes, France, chronicled on the uneven CD, Mingus at Antibes. Another difference between Out to Lunch and Out There is that, on the former, Dolphy's primary technique is vocal mimicry; he screams, whines and wails, all the time searching, much like Coltrane on his later albums. Add to that Bobby Hutcherson's often eerie vibes, and the Out to Lunch listener is left with a Twilight Zone feeling of inescapability. On Out There Dolphy plays his instruments more conventionally, but still chooses hallmark Dolphyesque dissonant notes and chord changes. Overall, the music is much more palatable than Out to Lunch.

Upon his return from the Mingus tour, Dolphy recorded Out There, which includes three originals, the Dolphy-Mingus title cut, and Mingus' "Eclipse," among others. "Serene," a Dolphy original, is stylistically similar to "Self-Portrait in Three Colors," and could have been included on the dessert island disc Mingus Ah Um. Like "Self-Portrait," and even "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," "Serene" has a beautiful wandering sense about it--notable especially in its unique harmonic head--as if the tune can't decide what it should make you feel. Another of the originals, "The Baron," is a tribute to Mingus, who referred to himself as Baron Mingus. In this piece, Mingus' ambiguous ramblings and verbal tirades are made incarnate by Ron Carter's scratchy cello lines. You can almost picture Mingus saying, "I'm not sure this is working. What are you playing? What is this? Give me something! NOW!" Two of the most mellifluous pieces are the covers "Sketch of Melba" and "Feathers," the last two cuts on the CD. After listening to "Feathers," check out "The Star-Crossed Lovers" on Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder for an interesting compositional and harmonic comparison. Dolphy, strangely enough, sounds as close to Johnny Hodges as he ever would.

Four years later, in February of 1964, Dolphy would record Out to Lunch and really affix himself to the jazz map. After another tour with the Mingus Sextet and a few recording dates as a sideman, Dolphy was scheduled to record with Albert Ayler in Europe in June of 1964. Tragically, however, the young avant-garde multi-instrumentalist died at 36 of an overdose exacerbated by diabetic complications. Jazz lost one of its great, gentle giants.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Eric Dolphy
  • CD Title: Out There
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Reissue Original Release: 1960
  • Record Label: Prestige/New Jazz
  • Tracks: Out There, Serene, The Baron, Eclipse, 17 West, Sketch of Melba, Feathers
  • Musicians: Eric Dolphy (alto sax, flute, B-flat clarinet and bass clarinets), Ron Carter (cello), George Duvivier (bass), Roy Haynes (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars

comment (1)

  • David53 Tuesday, 07 February 2012 22:30

    Dolphy did NOT die from an overdose; never touched drugs in his life, all he did was practice.

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