The Illinois Concert Live
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Eric Dolphy was a musician's musician, and over the course of his brief but incandescent career, he played and recorded with some of the finest pianists of his generation, including Jaki Byard and Mal Waldron. Still, as much as one might cherish their contributions to such Dolphy classics as Far Cry and Live at the Five Spot, nothing can prepare you for the concert experience of Dolphy's 1963 working band featuring a startling young pianist from the next generation, 23-year-old Herbie Hancock. Hancock reacts to the shamanistic energy of Dolphy's improvisations with the kind of exploratory open voicings and emotional urgency that characterised Bobby Hutcherson's vibraphone work on Out to Lunch!, save that no two-mallet vibist could hope to approximate the rich chordal canvas Hancock portrays on "Softly as a Morning Sunrise". Hancock abstracts and deconstructs the song form with imaginative polytonal overlays, allowing Dolphy to transcend the harmonic backgrounds and superimpose his own exploratory brand of calculated dissonance and speaking-in-tongues hosannas over the top. The virtuoso reedman engages the pianist and drummer J.C. Moses in ever more impassioned rhythmic exchanges. --Chip Stern
Top Customer Reviews
There is much to admire in his output both as a leader and sideman, however I have wrestled with this album and have decided to admit defeat.
His ability as a musician is beyond question, and he is supported here by a young, but competent, Herbie Hancock on piano, Eddie Khan on bas and J.C. Moses on drums (augmented by a larger ensemble for the last two tracks), and despite my admiration for Dolphy as a bass clarinetist, and counting a tune such as "Softly as in a morning sunrise" as a favourite tune i found the twenty minute version without stating the melody until the closing bars tedious, as I found this solo version of "God Bless The Child".
Should you not have listened to Dolphy before, I suggest that you start with his "Five Spot" album, or even "Out To Lunch".
With Dolphy(alto sax, bass clarinet & flute) were Herbie Hancock(piano); Eddie Khan(bass); J.C.Moses(drums) plus the University of Illinois Brass Ensemble & Big Band on 'Red Planet' & 'G.W.' respectively.
Dolphy is in fine form throughout and highlights include a 20-minute version of 'Softly As In A Morning Sunrise', an astonishing bass clarinet performance of 'God Bless The Child' and his adventurous alto sax playing on 'Iron Man'.
The recording quality is good apart from overloud drums and, although there are better introductions to Dolphy, the 70 minutes of inventive and passionate modern jazz on 'The Illinois Concert' shouldn't be missed.
SUNRISE IS A GREAT STARTER, SHOWING ERICS MASTERY ON THE BASS CLARINET AN INSTRUMENT I REALLY ENJOY. GREAT CD.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As for the concert itself, I was struck by the degree to which Hancock (who looked all of 18) appeared to be the man in charge, even though the piano was undermiked and difficult to hear (the previous reviewer's reference to his smooth, "feathery" touch is very much on target). Therefore, it's a revelation to hear the prominence of the instrument on this recording which, if anything, foregrounds the sound of the piano ahead of Dolphy's bass clarinet. Herbie's solos and accompaniment are free form and polytonal but at the same time curiously unengaging, especially in the company of Moses and Khan (whatever happened to this strong, gifted bassist?). The latter two would have been excellent stand-ins in a 1950s Miles Davis group, whereas Herbie, with the exception of his tendency here to fill too much of the space, clearly anticipates the abstract style that would be the hallmark of Miles' 1960s quintet.
As for Dolphy himself, he lives up to the legend, once again demonstrating that on bass clarinet he was and is without peer. Particularly striking is his ability to construct "antiphonal" solos, using the lowest register of the instrument to create intricate statements that are followed instantly by counterstatements in the altissimo register. And when he has an opportunity to play an unaccompanied cadenza, the effect is so "tonal" as to be stunning.
Within months of the Champaign-Urbana concert, I went to McKee's Show Lounge on Chicago's south side to catch Coltrane. Since there was no room for a piano on the small bandstand inside the bar area, John had brought Dolphy along as a replacement for McCoy Tyner. If only some recording of that session would suddenly materialize!
My rating of this recording is admittedly a trifle inflated, unless you're an Eric Dolphy fan, a bass clarinetist--or in my case, one of life's much-traveled pilgrims surprised once again at running into his past.
The obvious interest -- aside from the mere fact that it was a new Dolphy release -- lay in the surprising pairing of Dolphy with Hancock. The two had very different musical styles; Hancock, at 23, fit very easily into the Blue Note mainstream, post-bop stable, while Dolphy was one of jazz's most controversial figures, lionized by some and lambasted by others.
I think one of the reviewers criticized the quality of the recording. I don't agree with that, but I do think that the arrangements were muddled, and in general the concert, for me anyway, generates far less excitement than the "Live at the Five Spot" recordings Dolphy made with Booker Little, Ed Blackwell, Richard Davis and Mal Waldron.
I also feel that there are better "takes" of some of the tunes on other Dolphy releases. For example, the solo "God Bless the Child" was a standard for him and I don't hear much that's new in this performance. For me, the essential performance of that tune was on the old Prestige twofer "Copenhagen Concert," and nothing in this performance adds to that one. "Red Planet," recorded by Coltrane under the title "Miles' Mode," has a drifting sound that is disconcerting for me when I compare it to the urgency of the Coltrane version. But that aside, Dolphy played this tune often with Coltrane and with greater power and lyricism than he displays here. The Amazon review seemed particularly knocked out by "Softly in a Morning Sunrise," but for me it's an avant-garde approach to a tune that really doesn't lend itself to it. The simple lyricism of the original is lost and the arrangement has a meandering quality to it that doesn't engage me.
As for the pairing with Hancock, the difficulty is that while each player has his share of wonderful moments, stylistically they don't quite mesh for me. Hancock's strength then -- and now -- lay in his ability to seemingly suspend time with his floating chords and feathery right-hand touch. Dolphy's tone, even on flute, was biting, his approach fiery and intense. Finding a pianist to accompany him was difficult -- he sometimes recorded without one -- and Hancock's subtle backing gets lost at times when Dolphy is searing through a solo.
If you're a big Dolphy fan, by all means pick up the CD. You'll find plenty of moments of inspiration. If you're beginning to build your collection, however, I'd get the live Five Spot releases and the studio sessions that provided some of the material for this concert, including "Last Date" and "Iron Man."
This makes THE ILLINOIS CONCERT an even more welcome and important find than it would be otherwise. Superbly recorded for the most part, and featuring primarily Dolphy's own works, this 1963 performance also finds the leader in the invigorating and sympathetic company of his true musical peers.
With bassist Eddie Khan and drummer JC Moses, who would soon play on Dolphy's envelope-pushing "Iron Man" sessions, holding things together, there's no poking around for a beat here. Even more significantly, THE ILLINIOS CONCERT is one of only two known recordings featuring Dolphy's sometime pianist Herbie Hancock, then in the first glow of his own jazz celebrity and soon to join Miles Davis - and therefore necessarily un-join Dolphy - as a full-time sideman. If this sounds like a formidable foursome, it is, and one extremely well-matched to the material at hand.
That material opens with a twenty-minute evisceration of "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," featuring Dolphy's spine-tingling bass clarinet work, then segues through a brief segment of "Something Sweet, Something Tender" (Dolphy's own composition, which he would record a year later on OUT TO LUNCH) and the inevitable solo "God Bless the Child." Switching to flute, the Maestro tackles another original number, "South Street Exit," which unfortunately suffers from insufficient miking and therefore serves as more of a showcase for the rhythm section than the leader himself. "Iron Man," here in its developmental stage, brings in Dolphy's blistering alto saxophone for the finale of the quartet segment, after which a full orchestra joins the group for two more Dolphy classics, "Red Planet" (a.k.a. "Miles' Mode") and "GW." Both are handled quite well, and provide interesting examples of Dolphy's underexplored scoring skills as well as his evergreen sax chops.
Apart from the 1961 Five Spot concert and 1964's mistitled LAST DATE, I can't think of another live Dolphy recording which manages to attain a finer balance of material, players and ("South Street Exit" excepted) sound quality than this one. Highly recommended and, dare I say it, damned good!