The third in our series of 180 gram vinyl recording from the 100 titles that Blue Note are reissuing to celebrate the label’s 75th anniversary is Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch recorded in February 1964. It features Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Eric Dolphy (flute, alto saxophone bass clarinet), Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Richard Davis (bass), Anthony Williams (drums) and despite being recorded 50 years ago sounds as fresh today as when Rudy Van Gelder committed it to tape.
“I’m on my way to Europe to live for a while. Why? Because I can get more work there playing my own music and because if you try to do anything different in this country, people put you down for it.” Eric Dolphy
Recorded in February with the liner notes written sometime shortly thereafter, this album was released in the middle of August 1964. Tragically, Dolphy died in Berlin in late June 1964 from an undiagnosed diabetic condition and this recording was to be his epitaph. Few artists have had a more immediate or more fitting one. Dolphy had been true to his word, leaving the US to tour Europe with Charles Mingus and at the end of the tour, he went to join his girlfriend in Paris. It was while playing a gig in Berlin that he was taken ill.
On this, his first and only album for Blue Note as a leader, Dolphy excels; his achievements made more poignant by what might have been. The opening track ‘Hat and Beard’, a reference to Monk, gets the album off to an incredible start. The interplay between Hutcherson’s vibes and eighteen-year-old Tony Williams is fascinating, but then again that word can be applied to everything on this recording.
Dolphy wrote all the tracks – the album stands head and shoulders above his previous recordings – and it is deeply ironic that just as the thirty-six-year-old Doplphy had found where he wanted to go musically, he died. His bass clarinet on ‘Something Sweet, Something Tender’ is perhaps the album’s very highest point. Make no mistake, this is not easy listening, but once you have allowed yourself to be immersed in Dolphy’s musical imaginings then all is revealed. On Side two Dolphy plays the alto saxophone and for us, this is the place to start your initiation into his exploration of free jazz.
With it’s brilliant Reid Miles cover, featuring one of his own photographs – just imagine Miles stepping out from his office at lunchtime, a brief for the cover design and the title of the album in his head, and suddenly his eyes fall upon the perfect sign – this is now considered one of the most important free jazz albums ever recorded, and not just (as some have suggested) because Dolphy died prematurely. Avoid it at your peril.