Oliver Nelson with Eric Dolphy
Recorded March 1, 1961, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
Digital remastering, 1989, Fantasy Studios, Berkeley
This CD reissue brings back a very interesting quintet set matching together Oliver Nelson (on alto and tenor) and Eric Dolphy (tripling on alto, flute, and bass clarinet). With the assistance of pianist Richard Wyands, bassist George Duvivier, and drummer Roy Haynes, the two reedmen battle it out on six compositions (five of Nelson's originals plus Milt Jackson's "Ralph's New Blues." Although none of Nelson's tunes caught on, this is a pretty memorable date. It certainly took a lot of courage for Oliver Nelson to share the front line with the colorful Eric Dolphy, but his own strong musical personality holds its own on this straight-ahead date.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
So far, each of Oliver Nelson's albums for Prestige / New Jazz has been substantially different. The first, Meet Oliver Nelson (8224), was a more-or-less standard quintet, featuring trumpeter Kenny Dorham. The second, Takin' Care of Business (8233), was, as its title somehow indicates, an excursion into the soul groove, complete with organ. Following that, he made a set with two of the finest young instrumentalists in jazz today, Eric Dolphy and Richard Williams, called Screamin' the Blues (8243). Almost immediately afterwards, he recorded for Prestige / Moodsville, Nocturne (Vol. 14), which was a quartet session emphasizing his formidable writing abilities.
Such diversity could be construed in two ways: either Oliver has too much ability to be contained in one formal, or else he doesn't know where he is going. The first premise is definitely true, and Oliver himself would be the first to admit that there was a time when the second one was, too.
When he first came to New York from St. Louis, he felt all the pressures that beset the young player when he first finds himself involved with the big boys. There is more than one would think in a business as supposedly free as jazz, constant pressure on the young musician to conform: people who play a certain way are getting all the club and record dates, so why not play that way, too? That, coupled with the young musician's need for a model, leads some musicians into a rut of current acceptability that he never gets out of.
Oliver, whose training was mostly classical, needed such a model, and for a time flirted with the music of John Coltrane (who has since become a friend), but never so much so that he lost his own identity. That identity, much more orderly and lyrical than most of his contemporaries, came through in full force for the first time on Nocturne, and even though Oliver, working in reverse, as people are likely to do who become involved with music through a current style, has recently begun to pay careful attention 1o the music of Sonny Rollins, he is now so sure of his own direction (a direction, incidentally, that some of his fellow musicians have tried to talk him out of) that any influence will only help, not hinder him.
There has never been any question about the thorough-going individuality of the other solo voice in this group. Eric Dolphy, who doesn't seem to know what it means to compromise, is completely his own man on three instruments: alto, bass clarinet, and flute. He plays the other reeds too, although infrequently. His most notable musical quality is powerful force of personal conviction, which comes through on this album with almost stunning force. He achieved a certain amount of recognition with the bands of Chico Hamilton and Charles Mingus, but his major breakthrough to the jazz public came with his first album for Prestige/New Jazz, Outward Bound (8236), which inspired Don DeMichael of Down Beat to forget matters of critical criteria and say, "This album is life." Recently, Eric released a second LP, Out There (8252), which seems destined to have even more stunning impact than his first. And his critical year was capped by winning the Down Beat International Jazz Critics' Poll Award for New Star Alio. The cost of such individuality can best be judged by a remark he is reported to have made upon first hearing of the honor: "Does that mean I'm going to get work?"
The overwhelming force of Dolphy's emotional pull can be summed up by a statement of Oliver's: "My main job on this album was not to play like Eric' Oliver with his sense of logic and form, knows that an album featuring two saxophonists has many pitfalls inherent in it, and that it is possible for such an album, no matter how good the players are, to become deadly dull. So it seemed to Oliver that playing opposite a man with such intense personal convictions would be an excellent opportunity to test his own.
That he has succeeded in his task should be obviously apparent. It seems, actually, that the added burden of having to supply contrast ("Eric played that way for Chico Hamilton", Oliver says with some wonder, so it seems likely that Eric would not be the one to change) enabled his own individuality to come through with more force than it has to date.
The two saxophonists have been good friends, so Oliver, who feels it is very important to write for the specific musicians who are to play his work, knew exactly what he wanted to do. This is true not only in the case of Dolphy, but also pertains to the excellent rhythm section of Richard Wyands, George Duvivier, and Roy Haynes. They also supplied the pulse for two previous Nelson albums, Nocturne and Screamin' the Blues. Dolphy, as previously noted, also played on Screamin', and on his own Out There LP (recorded without piano) he was delighted with the work of Duvivier and Haynes, so much so that he constantly comments on how much of the album's success is due to them. At any rate, the five men were sufficiently familiar with one another's work to make the empathy that many recording groups seek after in vain, a starting point, rather than a hoped for result.
Five of the six compositions here are Oliver's, and he has altered the sixth sufficiently to make it almost rank as his composition, too.
Images, similar in mood to the title track of Nocturne, reflects Oliver's preoccupation with the work of Bela Bartok, but also has an eerie suggestion, in voicing and Nelson's Johnny Hodges-like slurs, of some of the old Ellington pieces. Nelson plays alto; Dolphy, who has one of his most startling of many starting entrances, plays bass clarinet.
Six and Four is so named because of its shifts back and forth from 6/4 to 4/4 time. Oliver is particularly pleased with the almost imperceptible manner in which the rhythm section handled these shifts. Nelson's solo (he solos first) is notable for his ability to structure an improvisation on the theme, rather than simply reverting to pet runs. Both men play alto.
Mama Lou is named for Oliver's older sister, a teacher in St. Louis. "She's one of those people who displays two different moods," Oliver says, "and I tried to capture them both in this piece." Both men solo on alto, but Dolphy plays flute on the slow section.
The longest track on the album, Ralph's New Blues is a Milt Jackson composition, and was originally recorded by the Modern Jazz Quartet on Concorde (Prestige 7005;. Dolphy, who plays first in one of his best recorded solos, plays bass clarinet. Oliver switches, to tenor sax, and, apparently secure in the knowledge that he has established his individuality, amuses himself in parts of his solo with an affectionate imitation of Eric's style. At other times, he displays his affinity with the most basic blues tenor men. On the arranged section, for which Oliver plays clarinet, he uses only a portion of Jackson's theme, and uses it as a strict canon.
Straight Ahead is the humorous flagwaver of the set, on which both men play alto. Oliver leads off oh the solos, and in the furious exchange of fours that is one of the high points of the album.
The trend toward titling pieces with one's home address (Dolphy called one of his tunes 267 for that reason) is carried on by Oliver with 111-44 an address from which he just moved, thus giving him a ready-made title for his next piece. Dolphy plays bass clarinet; Nelson, alto.
Oliver's insistence on preparation and Eric's on spontaneity might seem to be mutually exclusive, but, because of a splendid and sympathetic rhythm section, both ideals were achieved on this set. Each performance was a first take. I can vouch for that personally, for I had hoped to be present. The session was scheduled for one in the afternoon, and I arrived at three-thirty, thinking that by then the music would have been rehearsed and the men would be starting to play. What I found was a studio empty of everyone but A & R man Esmond Edwards and engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who were packing up to leave and looking very satisfied. It is safe to say that if you, listen to this album for twenty times longer than it took to record, it will still have fresh and important things to say to you.
- Joe Goldberg