ERIC DOLPHY — 'Out to Lunch!' (review)

ERIC DOLPHY — 'Out to Lunch!' album cover Album · 1964 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
One of the most individualistic and visionary albums ever produced, “Out to Lunch” is still way ahead of its time, even 45 years after its initial release. Although the world of avant-garde jazz had been around for a few years, most of those players were still involved in “free playing” and used a very expressive approach to jazz. “Out to Lunch”, on the other hand, was totally different with its use of tight compositions and controlled sensitive ensemble improvisations. Sun Ra and Charles Mingus may have hit on some music like this, but never on the same intricate scale as Dolphy. Eric’s music also had some similarities to modern concert hall music, but there was a deceptively simple deliberateness to Dolphy’s music that made it more natural and accessible than the typical modern composition.

I’m sure this music was a shock when people first let side one spin. At first “Hat and Beard” sounds like a modern abstract bop number by Monk or Mingus; the bass walks, the vibes and horns make short interjections, but where is the melodic lead instrument? This is bop totally stripped down to its skeleton. Next the bass gets stuck and the vibes unexpectedly doubles their melody before Dolphy enters with an elastic atonal solo. And so the album continues like this with organized sections that organically segue way into each other taking the place of melody and expected form. There is a theatrical element to this music with each section representing a “scene” of sorts. Similarly, there is also an almost cartoonish narrative to this music, with different musical sections seeming to paint action and characters. In this respect Dolphy’s music was a throwback to the early big band music of Fletcher Henderson who was always a favorite soundtrack source for cartoonists in the 30s.

The jazz world was slow to pick up on Dolphy’s innovations at first. Most of the avant-garde preferred their freedom, but artists such as Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and The Art Ensemble of Chicago began to vary their material, although none could ever produce something with the appealing populist effect of “Out to Lunch”. Since the mid 80s, the world of avant-garde jazz has expanded greatly in its scope and Dolphy’s place as a revered innovator is assured for all time. Back in the late 60s, it was possibly the art rock crowd that jumped on Dolphy’s music the most. Ambitious rock composers such as Fred Frith, Frank Zappa and Robert Fripp found that Dolphy’s direct expressions worked well in an experimental rock context.

“Out to Lunch” is one of the finest pieces of music the 20th century has to offer. Give it a listen, nothing else in the world sounds like this one. Dolphy’s compositions are one of a kind, and the support he gets from musicians like Tony Williams, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson and Richard Davis is pure genius.
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more than 2 years ago
Fantastic, that makes it even more enjoyable. Will have to check out Nina Rota and I remember you directingme to Hendeson before, so will keep him on the list. Yes, and regard to the other players picking up on it, that's part of what makes an album amazing huh? Rather than being pulled along for the ride, they add somethin to the whole.

I wonder if that humour bugged Miles? I always think of that quote where he has bit of a dig at Dolphy

js wrote:
more than 2 years ago
The humor is definitely on purpose, I know from my work with kids that genius is often very silly. As far as actually imitating cartoons, probably not, but I would imagine he was feeling some relationship with that old cartoony big band music aka Henderson or Armstrong. Modern jazz lost touch with that sort of witty sassy picture painting that used to be a hallmark of jazz. There are some AG musicians and big bands who are bringing some of that back. Another good example is some of the film music of Nina Rota.
As far as "Out to Lunch" goes, all the musicians pick up on the humor, check out Hubbard's taunting obtuse horn solos, great stuff.

more than 2 years ago
Maybe not? The review is great, made me put 'Out to Lunch' on again!

I reckon your discussion of the 'cartoon' aspect (again, 'cartoon' not in a negative sense of the word) still addresses the 'goofy' element. How deliberate do you think that was, by Dolphy? I haven't read much about him really

js wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Yeah, I need to edit my review sometime and include the goofy sense of humor to this thing.
more than 2 years ago
Somehow this album always sounds a little 'drunk' too (wonderfully so) for some reason. Not sure that makes sense, but that tightly composed seems contrasted by some sense of cheekiness perhaps?


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