Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Friday, 5 August 2011


Listening to Mal Waldron's the Quest (read what I've said about it here) made me pull this record out.
Recorded a week before the Waldron date, Where? is actually a Ron Carter session.
After Dolphy died and posthumously became something of a celebrity Prestige reissued Where? and The Quest under Dolphy's name. I can see how you might think that The Quest was Dolphy's date given the subdued nature of Waldron's playing but Where? is definitely Carter's. In fact Dolphy doesn't even play on every track!
This sort of thing happened fairly frequently. As talented sidemen became famous in their own right their earlier recordings would be reissued under their own names, often with the leaders all but relegated to footnotes on the sleeves. Trumpeter Wilbur Hardin recorded a number of records with his friend John Coltrane on sax (he also recorded with Yusef Lateef and you can read about Prayer to the East here). Once Coltrane attained fame all of these recordings were re-released as Coltrane records and Hardin lapsed into obscurity. You have to love the exploitative nature of the record industry!
I can't help but feel that the first years on the 1960s  must have been a wildly exciting time to have been in New York and listening to jazz.  I find something fascinating and intriguing about a record like this or The Quest. To my ears its as though nothing was impossible and everything was allowed. Musicians were including everything in their music, absorbing influences from around the world, using different instruments, time signature, scales and modes. In many ways the nexus for all of this was New York, where some of the most experimental music was taking place.
Part of that experimental approach to music making manifested itself in so-called Third Stream music - a blend of jazz and classical.
For many jazz commentators Third Stream is seen as a dead-end for jazz, an attempt to smooth out the rough edges and disreputable elements of jazz, to in some way eviscerate it. That many Third Stream recordings were produced by 'cool' or 'West Coast' jazz musicians and that many of them were white also counts against it.
I have to admit that I find much Third Stream stuff too polite for my ears. How much Modern Jazz Quartet can anyone  take? But I feel that rather than be seen as a different path from the so-called avant garde it was part of the same questing for new sounds, for absorbing old music, and 'exotic' music and trying to turn that into jazz.
And who better to pull all of these influences together than Eric Dolphy?
Dolphy's appearance on a vast number of recordings is often lamented as an example of the plight of an avant garde musician who is forced to play in styles not his own in order to live. Perhaps. But I can't help feeling that when one looks at the dates Dolphy plays on, there are some consistencies. In the same way as the early experiences of Coltrane, himself a bandleader for Dolphy, funnelled into his later playing, most notably I think in some of the low honking noises he sometime made, Dolphy's experiences also shaped his playing.
Throughout his time with the Chico Hamilton group, Dolphy played with Nathan Gershman on cello. Although Gershman achieved a completely different sound on his cello from the sound that Carter gets on Where? Dolphy's earlier experiences must have played a part in his sensitive playing on this record.
Carter originally trained as a cellist and, as with some may jazz musicians from this era, was familiar with and trained in classical music.
I think you can hear this in the expressive way he plays and on the truly moving cello work on Bass Duet - a track that Dolphy doesn't play on.
Of course Carter would go on to play in one of Miles Davis's most important bands and although Miles had moved away from his 'cool' period it seems to me to be another example of the ways in which the so called differing schools of jazz were not as different as some commentators would like.
Dolphy also played with Charles Mingus, as did Mal Waldron, so both had extensive experience of working in bassist-led bands.
Talking of bassists I have to mention George Duvivier. When  Carter is on cello Duvivier takes on the bass chores. If you ever see a record with Duvivier's name pick it up. He played with some amazing musicians, Herbie Nicols, Wilbur Hardin, Shirley Scott. His playing on this record is incredible. I have no doubt that he and Carter pushed each other to greater heights.
If you've read this far you deserve a small reward - here is a very bad rip of the album - no track breaks I'm afraid! Enjoy.

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