Eric Dolphy – Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot, Volume 2: Recorded live [Remastered, with bonus tracks] – Prestige/Concord PRS-31339, 67:33 ****1/2:
(Eric Dolphy – flute on track 2, bass clarinet on tracks 1 and 4, alto saxophone on track 2; Booker Little – trumpet; Mal Waldron – piano; Richard Davis – bass; Ed Blackwell – drums)
The recordings that make up Eric Dolphy and Booker Little’s two Five Spot Café live volumes are more than just a document of a band performing on stage: this is historically significant music that changed the fabric of modern jazz music. Nearly 50 years after the Dolphy/Little quintet’s show, this material is still provocative, visceral, outwardly extroversive while inwardly emotional and explorative.
Dolphy was an authentic original and Little was equally innovative and sharp. Both musicians were brilliant, bridging the gap between Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, and they helped liberate jazz from conventions of the day and pointed the way to new approaches to the genre.
The tracks on Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot, Volume 2: Recorded Live represent four selections from a total of ten that Rudy Van Gelder recorded at the celebrated Five Spot in New York City on July 16, 1961. The concert took place during a sweltering East Coast summer when heat and humidity made conditions nearly intolerable and was even a problem for the band.
It must be noted that although there are two bonus cuts on this remastered edition, all of this music has been commercially available before, just not in one package. Completists may have "Number Eight (Posta Lotsa)" and "Booker’s Waltz," since they previously appeared on Dolphy’s Memorial Album. Nonetheless, listening to these four on a single presentation as they were heard by the Five Spot audience is really the best way to appreciate the set list.
It is more than obvious the two Five Spot volumes should be heard to fully assess what Dolphy, Booker and the rhythm section of pianist Mal Waldron, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Ed Blackwell accomplished. However, each volume is outstanding in its own way, and there is nothing inferior about this second volume: it’s a companion, not a subordinate.
The compositions encompass a spectrum of tones, solos, and ideas. Booker and Dolphy both take the spotlight, showcasing their influences, aptitude, and capacity; the songs are a mix of melodic and chordal works (two written by Little, one by Dolphy, and one jazz standard). The rhythm trio also contributes importantly, and is given room and space to express their different outlooks and viewpoints.
Little’s 17-minute "Aggression" begins the proceedings, and is built on a twice-repeated eight bar phrase constructed as a basis for solo freedom. Little is the first soloist, and reveals his gifts as a trumpeter, displaying his understanding, consumption, and study of jazz history, while keeping his musical efforts sensible and emotional, balancing technical expertise with impulsive intuition. Dolphy comes next with his distinctive bass clarinet, which remains obscure and underused in jazz circles. Dolphy’s solo on the ostensibly unusual instrument is resourceful and fascinating. Dolphy leaps at the chance to prod and squeak through the lower register, in the process crafting an assortment of nonmusical speech-like intonations. Waldron, who usually acts as a stabilizing factor amongst the free-flowing music, follows with a solo presumably inspired by Dolphy and Little. He lays down block chords on the lower keys, while utilizing fast-paced right hand runs. Davis then takes center stage, and demonstrates his technique that melds his classically-trained background with a jazz-inclined verve, executing a lucid up-tempo bass solo. Ornette Coleman alum Eddie Blackwell concludes the soloing with a barrage of vigorous tom fills and taut snare rolls. The tune terminates with Little and Dolphy meshing trumpet and clarinet within a dissonant framework.
The second piece is the Van Heusen-Burke standard "Like Someone In Love," which was selected by Little, a man who had a passion for life, understood the urges inherent in human relationships, and was sensitive to traditional songcraft. During the moderate and slightly more customary arrangement, Dolphy switches to flute, while Davis uses his bow at the beginning. Dolphy’s flute ranges from playful and lyrical to a reedy, assertive resonance. Little embraces a thoughtful and translucent tone and builds up to a spirited solo. During the second half of the 20-minute excursion, Waldron escalates his blues-tinted disposition into an azure solo stippled by dexterous tempo changes that are backed by Blackwell’s ambulant accents. Davis ensues with a poetic solo that proves why he is considered a virtuoso of the bass.
The little known Dolphy composition "Number Eight (Potsa Lotsa)" picks up the pace, which has the stamp and inscription of hard bop, with a theme that includes some turbulent and imaginative harmonic interplay between Dolphy’s fervent alto sax and Little’s trumpet. Dolphy, in particular, burns on his lengthy solo, loosing an avalanche of embellished notes, sliding up to the instrument’s higher register and unleashing a torrent of physically primal music akin to an artist smearing paint on a canvas. Waldron realizes another well-rounded solo with adroit comping that has a lightly avantgarde twist, and continues his cadenced action even as Davis presents a swinging solo. Blackwell brings to an end the solo section with a dashing drum kit alchemy that elicits a few whoops and exclamations.
The outing winds up with Little’s "Booker’s Waltz." This may be the most uncertain track. While Dolphy exhibits a likable and lyrical bass clarinet tone that also has some discordant friction, near the closing point of the 15-minute rendition, he appears unsure of his accompaniment and unexpectedly quits playing. In spite of this, the undertaking has some wonderful moments, as when Waldron provides a crisp solo that is spare and employs diverse voicings, trailed by a mesmerizing Davis improvisation full of ringing rhythms.
Rudy Van Gelder’s engineering is superb and his remastering job with modern technology enriches how the musicians wanted the music to be offered, and the finished product improves on earlier issues. But truth be told, there is still nothing that can be done about the piano. Not the pianist, just the piano. Due to the high temperature and humidity, the piano strings and hammers were impertinently lacking in flexibility and the instrument was difficult to keep in tune. Despite these drawbacks, Waldron persisted and did not alter his performance to match the keyboard’s limitations. This is very apparent during "Number Eight (Potsa Lotsa)," when he pounds the keys and gets an unintentionally disagreeable noise.
It is unfortunate this quintet was not able to stay together. Booker Little was already in physical pain during this session, and passed away about three months after these recordings. The trumpeter only left a few audio documents, and the collaborations with Dolphy on the Five Spot records are a lasting tribute to his artistic and impressive style.
TrackList: * = Bonus tracks
2. Like Someone in Love
3. Number Eight (Potsa Lotsa)*
4. Booker’s Waltz *
— Doug Simpson