The Deep, Connective Tissue of Resonance's "Eric Dolphy Musical Prophet" 3 LP Set

Billed as “The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions”, Resonance Records’ Black Friday offering Eric Dolphy Musical Prophet is anything but one of those RSD repackaged assemblages of cast off secondary material meant for fanatical completists. The phrase “connective tissue” kept running through my head as I listened to the 3 LPs and read “mouth agape” the vital annotation that threaded together the confused recorded history.

For some jazz enthusiasts Eric Dolphy begins and ends with Out to Lunch (Blue Note ST 84163/MM BST-84163 2 45rpm LPs), recorded in February, 1964, not long after these July 1st and 3rd, 1963 sessions for Alan Douglas’s FM Records produced Conversations and Iron Man (the latter not released until four years after Dolphy’s death at age 36, June, 29th, 1964).

It’s considered Dolphy’s best album, so who can blame listeners for failing to sort through the confused tangle of previous Dolphy posthumous releases?

As a young “budding” jazz fan in the early ‘70s I tried. I bought the poorly annotated 1973 Prestige “two-fer” Copenhagen Concert (PRST 24027) culled from Volumes 1 and 3 of Eric Dolphy in Europe (what happened to Vol. 2?) and was blown away by the exotic sound of his solo bass clarinet take on “God Bless the Child”.

The 1971 Prestige “two-fer” simply titled Dolphy (PR 24008), reissues of Out There and Outward Bound with annotation by a State University of NY College at Old Westbury professor (Ken McIntyre) proved equally un-illuminating though we did learn that he met Dolphy in 1960 and was impressed with his “all around musicianship” and through Freddie Hubbard he got to sit in with Dolphy at Minton’s and that Dolphy guested on his Prestige recording session. This kid didn’t learn much of anything about Eric Dolphy other than what the music taught (which was plenty).

At another point I picked up (used) the 3 LP set The Great Concert of Eric Dolphy (P-34002), which was a live session recorded in 1961 at The Five Spot and features trumpeter Booker Little, who also died young (23). This set had notes (probably useful) by Ira Gitler, but they were missing from the used set I’d bought. At one point I picked up a used copy of the 1968 release The Eric Dolphy Memorial Album on Vee-Jay (LP 2503), which features some of the tracks that this Resonance reissue finally puts in context and includes more truly dumb annotation. So after all of this (pre-Internet ‘70s era) album searching I still knew next to nothing about Eric Dolphy other than that I was mesmerized by his music—particularly by the extremes of flute and bass clarinet.

But wait! There’s more! At a San Francisco thrift store last year I picked up for $2.00 Eric Dolphy Jitterbug Waltz a two LP set issued by the late Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records label with a “Douglas” imprint. Casablanca is best known for Kiss, Disco, Donna Summer and The Village People, but I bought the record anyway, “just because” of the musicians listed (Richard Davis, Bobby Hutcherson, Clifford Jordan, Woody Shaw and a few others. And I noted the recording engineer, the late Bill Schwartau (who apparently died penniless as a drug-addicted “street person” , though he was at one point a brilliant engineer [Peter, Paul and Mary, etc.].

When I got home I read the annotation (more superlative-laced drek and of course “died at 36”) I discovered that the 1976 “two-fer” consisted of (Conversations and Iron Man released together for the first time (not that I’d heard of either record at that time, though some of the tracks were on the Vee Jay album). The mastering was by Allen Zentz in stereo and the sound is spectacular.

This new Resonance release is in mono because the producers say the stereo tapes have disappeared and they say that some of the stereo reissues were from “needle drops”, but the Casablanca/Douglas two-fer clearly was not. That said, as with many early ‘60s recordings a great case can be made (and I make one here) for why the mono release is preferable.

But before getting back to this Resonance “connective tissue” release, will someone please find the tape and reissue this crazy 1962 record?

On the left channel you get a “pop” section of violins (including The Left Banke’s Michael Brown’s father Harry Lookofsky), some flutes and horns, while on the right channel you get a jazz group featuring Freddy (sic) Hubbard, Bill Hardman, Curtis Fuller, Grachan Moncur, Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Charlie Persip, Jimmy Cobb and Eric Dolphy!

Orchestrations by Benny Golson. If you play just the left channel you get a “pop” album. Play the right you get “jazz”, with different tunes on each channel. Play both together and it works as a complete stereo arrangement! Oh, and just to top it off, the record was produced by Tom Wilson (Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, etc.)!

Here’s “How High the Moon” on the left channel and “Ornithology” on the center/right played by Eric Dolphy and Bill Evans!

How High The Moon/Ornithology

(perhaps otherwise known as "How High Was Charlie Parker")

Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Review

Resonance has done far more here than put together a three LP set that includes both Douglas-produced LPs (Conversations and Iron Man) and a third album of outtakes culled from the two original sessions (along with “A Personal Statement” a rare “bonus” track recorded at an Ann Arbor radio station in March of 1964 featuring Bob James [best known as an innovator of the much reviled “smooth jazz” sub-category]).

What’s most significant, at least for me, is the indespensible annotation that finally (at least for record collectors—I’m sure there are books that do this but who reads when you can listen?) puts together a coherent Dolphy narrative that covers everything from the source of these mono tapes (great story) that produced 159 minutes of music, to truly illuminating essays and interviews beginning with an appreciation by James Newton (both a distinguished flautist [ ie: Suite for Frida Kahlo (Audioquest AQ 1023)] and Professor of Music) that is both a historical overview and a musical analysis filled with head-spinning (for non-musicians) musical terms, followed by a more detailed chronicle of the events surrounding the recording of the two LPs and musical analysis more easily grasped by “civilians” by Robin D.G. Kelley (Professor of American History).

Following that essay are Dolphy remembrances by John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus culled from books and previously published interviews as well as a recent interview (July, 2018) with Sonny Rollins conducted by producer Zev Feldman.

That’s followed by a fascinating reputation burnishing look at enigmatic producer Alan Douglas whose relationship with Jimi Hendrix and some of his recorded output was, to put it mildly, “controversial”. More musician interviews follow including ones with Richard Davis, Sonny Simmons, Joe Chambers and others. There’s more within the full sized booklet’s 20 pages, but one of my favorites is David Murray’s response to Zev Feldman’s question about an Murray bio. Feldman quotes the bio and then asks if the quote is “…in any way a fair representation of yours (Murray’s) and Dolphy’s style?”

Murray responds: “No. I think those are the words of some idiot professor who’s trying to sound intelligent. Fucking idiot.” Murray then explains why, but you’ll have to read that for yourself. I also enjoyed Murray’s discussion of how he got into Dolphy’s flute playing through James Newton: “James tightened up my Fauré”. Musician shop talk.

If you’re unfamiliar with Dolphy’s music and think you’re going to encounter “darkness and difficulty” you couldn’t be more wrong. Fats Waller’s oft-covered joyful “Jitterbug Waltz” opens the set and from there you are “in”. But if you want to start with something more moving, sublime and extraordinary, I suggest the spare cover of Ellington’s “Come Sunday” on Side “C”. Just arco (bowed) bass and bass clarinet. That’s all I’ll say about the music not wanting to risk having David Murray call me a “fucking idiot”.

While the stereo tapes have disappeared the mono masters were obviously in very good condition. The stereo versions mastered by Allen Zentz on the Douglas/Casablanca 1976 “two-fer” sound great and do not sound like “needle drops”. However, the “stereo” is of the “left/right” variety as if they were intended to be folded down to mono. There’s no great thrill hearing on “Come Sunday” Richard Davis all the way on one side and Dolphy on the other. That track and most of the tracks work better in mono, especially since the transfers and restoration work was so well done and the equalization (or lack thereof) so tasteful. Bernie Grundman cut lacquers and it appears that RTI pressed.

This set is limited to 3000 copies. Even if it costs $100 plus thanks to the Black Friday goniffs, it’s worth it! Highly recommended.

Montpier's picture

But seems like Resonance has found that very intentionally limiting to RSD is a viable business. Presumably the wonderful accompanying booklet will also be found in the upcoming CD release. A friend at the late, great Philadelphia Third St Jazz had included the just released Douglas double among the dozen records intended to start my jazz collection, ironically along with Coltrane's Ole, Dolphy's first recording with Coltrane (though some may be unaware that they're listening to Dolphy on that Atlantic album as he had to be listed under pseudonym of "George Lane" due to his Prestige contract).

Actually probably more appropriate to say it's some "audiophiles" who think Dolphy begins and ends with Out to Lunch; despite a sadly abbreviated recording career, hopefully "jazz enthusiasts" have much greater familiarity with his work given the incredible array of iconic albums Dolphy performs on with a truly diverse range of leaders: Coltrane's Live at Village Vanguard and Africa/Brass, Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, Oliver Nelson's Blues and Abstract Truth (yeah, audiophiles have that one too I hope), Max Roach's Percussion Bitter Sweet, Abbey Lincoln's Straight Ahead, George Russell's Ezz-thetics, Andrew Hill's Point of Departure, Individualism of Gil Evans, Booker Little's Out Front, MJQ's John Lewis Wonderful World of Jazz, Gunther Schuller's Jazz Abstractions, and a of course several essential Mingus albums, including the 1960 Candid sessions, Impulse Mingus Mingus (etc.) as well as numerous live recordings of the amazing 1964 Mingus band w/Jaki Byard.

(And yes, even Sammy Davis Jr, but not sure I would describe that as "iconic")

Plus, while perhaps not quite as fully realized as OTL, the earlier Dolphy credited Prestige albums are superb, and I think still available as Analogue Productions vinyl releases.

Michael Fremer's picture
I have almost all of those albums on which Dolphy plays but didn’t want to further muck up the review with sessions (etc.). I have that Schuller album, which is not all that common....
sckott's picture

I grabbed this one too, among the other four copies around my greedy hand, so glad I got there early. The set is just beautiful sounding. Reminds me of the Lles liaisons dangereuses/Monk set from months past. Small label brings forth a Jazz treasure from out of nowhere.

J. Carter's picture

This was on the top of my list for RSD releases this year. The place I shop holds up to 5 releases aside for the people who are in line before they are able to sell the records. I couldn't believe how much my bill came to and researched why only to find that this was $75. I was expecting $40 maybe $50 but I have to admit this was well done. I would prefer stereo typically but if the stereo mix is like explained by Michael then the mono mix is more than fine with me. Very happy with my purchase.

Tom L's picture

The shops around here won't do that. It can be really tough to get the good stuff. Ebay and the like offer an alternative, but it kind of irritates me to know the that some of the people grabbing jazz LPs just plan to resell them. Oh well, that's life.

Montpier's picture

thought this was a fun story:

How a Niche Jazz Imprint, Resonance, Became Record Store Day’s Mascot Label

(it's from Variety of all places. Who would have thunk that mainstream entertainment industry media would be covering a vinyl release from a tiny label 10 years ago???)

Sorry if I went overboard in my initial post, but this Dolphy release was the one reason I actually braved waiting on line for my local store to open for an RSD in quite some time.

And you know how taking out some physical items like records or books just bring back memories? Well that Douglas Dolphy "two-for" is one I'll remember forever: I had just seen Sun Ra live for the first time and it truly blew my mind (as we used to say then) so asked a friend to turn me on to some essential jazz, and it was among the Kind of Blue, In a Silent Way, Giant Steps, Ole, Blues & Roots, This is Our Music, Conference of the Birds, Space is the Place, People in Sorrow, Escalator Over the Hill, and Braxton's New York, Fall 1974 I walked out of the store with. Over 40 years later I still remember (and have) those initial purchases but now among literally way-too-many thousands of albums in my "lair" that my wife tolerates.

Guess kids consult the internet these days, but (as per MF's video) can't see a download or even a CD ever having the same emotional resonance...

Though fortunately I was almost able to recreate this event a few years back for my nephew as he was discovering Jazz (and vinyl) at NYC's Jazz Record Center.

Michael Fremer's picture
An amazing collection of greats!
SpinMark3313's picture

Streetlight Records, Santa Cruz CA - just picked it up for $64.
God bless them for no price gouging. And there are a lot of jazz fans in Santa Cruz...

billsf's picture

May I recommend Eric Dolphy A Musical Biography & Discography by Vladimir Simosko & Barry Tepperman Da Capo Press from 1979. It's still the best although The Importance Of Being Eric Dolphy by Raymond Horricks out of England has great incite and includes an excellent discography circa 1989.

jh4all's picture

I live in L.A. so RSD is always a zoo. I was able to find this on Ebay for a cool C-note. Thanks Mikey for costing me more cash!

beatcomber's picture

Audio Fidelity also issued that goofy Triple Play Stereo album with just the jazz performance, under the title "Just Jazz," credited to Benny Golson.

Barretter's picture

There is also a book in French by Guillaume Belhomme which has just been reissued. And in addition to Hylkema's "Last date" film there are several DVDs of Dolphy in Europe with Charles Mingus groups in 1960 and 1964, with Coltrane and with his own quintet in Germany in 1961. Dolphy also appears with Chico Hamilton in "Jazz on a summer's day" but most surprisingly (and fleetingly) playing baritone sax in the backing group for The Platters in a Roger Corman rockploitation film called "Rock all night"!
I have an acetate of "Iron man" made by "Allied, New York" in mono and the sound is far more vivid than the Douglas LP. I hope the Resonance issue is just as vivid. I only received it yesterday and haven't got round to playing it yet.

Barretter's picture

he also appears in the DVD set of Leonard Bernstein's "Young people's concerts".

torturegarden's picture

I ordered one from Discogs last week for $76 shipped and it arrived today. Great music, I'm glad I picked one up. Sounds great even with longish LP sides. Thanks Michael, I wasn't even aware this existed.

charliepress's picture

Hi: I bought a copy of this--enough stores had it at normal prices so not hard to get after the RSD madness. Some of the sides on are over 30 minutes long. Do they sound ok? And I've noticed this is becoming slightly more common these days (i.e. Kamasi Washington's "The Epic"). Is there some more recent cutting technology that allows for over 30 minute lp sides without a loss in sound quality?