Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Eric Dolphy, 1964

Today I got hold of (and edited) the Charles Mingus Sextet concert from Oslo, 1964 with Dolphy on, among others, bass clarinet. As far as I know, this is one of the last, if not the last, video recordings of Dolphy in his life. This clip is of the sextet playing "Take the A Train."

I have a like/dislike relationship with Dolphy's playing, as some of you might know. Of course, he's a genius in many ways, but over the years of careful listening I've come to notice that his bass clarinet solos in particular follow a sort of finger pattern that's a little unschooled and raw. For me, it's almost like he didn't really have complete command over the instrument. (I know this is sacrilege). This is why, in part, I have always thought that the "God Bless The Child" improv was probably worked out in advance, if not written out or maybe outlined on paper -- because it's different.

Well, today I am not so sure I was ever right. This performance, with Dolphy's solo at about 4:30 into the tune, shows some seriously advanced skill playing "outside" yet still clearly following the harmony of the tune. I could hear it brought back throughout the solo. By the way, I love the fact that Mingus gets up and walks offstage during the solo (probably to pee) while the other members of the sextet chat.

I'm impressed with how he controls and explores the range of the horn, not as much squawking/honking as I've heard on much of his recorded work. He doesn't revert to his "lick" that I've heard in about half of his recorded solos (to me, the equivalent of saying "um" or "you know" in the middle of a sentence). He inserts many pauses -- sometimes long ones -- into this solo.

Some other things I noticed: He uses 1/1 for Eb and Bb a lot. When the band comes in after his "acapella" solo, the audience claps, and Dolphy looks pissed. He waits for the applause to die a bit, and kind of gestures as if to say, "jaHEEzus, I'm not even done yet. Shut the hell up!" Oh, and I love the Tympani on the back riser.

Anyway, I'll let you form your own opinions -- here's the link:

Mingus in Oslo

One last word: you'll need the Flash 8 plugin to view the video. It's free at adobe.com