NPR revisits a Blue Note jazz masterpiece
1964 was a great year for cutting-edge jazz records like Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity, John Coltrane's A Love Supreme and Andrew Hill's Point of Departure. But none sounds as far ahead of its time as Eric Dolphy's masterpiece Out to Lunch, recorded for Blue Note on Feb. 25, 1964. Half a century later it still sounds crazy in a good way. The organized mayhem starts with Dolphy's tunes, often featuring wide, wide leaps in the melody and ratchet-gear rhythms. His composition "Straight Up and Down" was inspired by the careful walk of a drunk striving to stay upright. He improvised with that same kind of angular energy, and an excitable tone like a goosed goose.
The heart of Out to Lunch is its singular vibes-bass-and-drums rhythm trio, starting with Miles Davis' 18-year-old drum wonder Tony Williams. The following year, Williams would propose to Davis' band that they play "anti-music" — the opposite of what anyone would expect. Williams is already testing that idea on Out to Lunch, rethinking the drum set's components; his hi-hat alone makes this one of his classics. On "Hat and Beard," the title a nod to Thelonious Monk, Williams finds myriad ways to provoke Dolphy's yawping bass clarinet, an instrument Dolphy had pretty much to himself as a soloist. [Listen/Read More]
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