Monday, June 1, 2009

Eric Dolphy - Something Sweet, Something Tender

An utterly inaccessible but extremely worthwhile jazz masterpiece. There's no piano here - Dolphy plays a variety of woodwinds (bass clarinet on "Hat and Beard" and "Something Sweet, Something Tender"; flute on "Gazzelloni"; alto sax on the title cut and "Straight Up and Down"); and the band includes other famous jazz figures such as Tony Williams (soon to join Miles Davis and form his own group, Tony Williams Lifetime) on drums and Freddie Hubbard (also of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage-era band, and the Coltrane group that made Ascension) playing trumpet. But the real star of the show is Dolphy, merging Monk's innovations in odd chord progression, Coleman's love of atypical harmonies, and Mingus' experiments with song structure - often, the themes are played in odd measures, giving them a tremendously off-kilter feel (the nervy "Straight Up and Down"; Monk tribute "Hat and Beard", with an insane vibraphone part from Bobby Hutcherson). The sole ballad of the set, "Something Sweet, Something Tender", mainly a duet between Dolph and bassist Ron Davis, is beautiful in a weird way, much like some of Coltrane's very last recordings. There's also a strange pseudo-classical experiment ("Gazzelloni") that's absolutely brilliant, because there is nothing else like it. And I do mean nothing - listen to Dolph's flute. It will dispel all notions of the instrument having a pleasant, easy-on-the-ears sound. It also will dispel all notions of vibes being pleasant and easy-on-the-ears, for those looking to see notions dispelled. It's an insane piece, which is precisely why I love it. That, and it has a bass solo. Those are always good. The amazing title track is probably the worst song here, but it would've been the best on any other album - again, the bass solo really is something. I gotta say, get this right now if you like Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, and/or Charles Mingus - especially if you, like me, like all three of 'em. It's not for everybody, but it's very much worth a buy.

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