Today I will be reviewing an album by one of the most prolific horn players ever, Eric Dolphy. His style is post bob and contains lots of elements of free jazz. This album is titled “At the Five Spot” because it was recorded at the legendary Five Spot club in New York. These recordings are from a july gig at this club in 1961. The group consisted of Eric Dolphy on sax, Booker Little on trumpet, Richard Davis on Bass, Ed Blackwell on drums, and Mal Waldron on piano. These recordings are an important part of Jazz history as they were a sign of the change happening in Jazz at the time. The music was getting “more out”, tonality was being tested, and this music changed the shape of Jazz just as much as Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane did.
The first track off this record is “Fire Waltz”. You can tell this is a live recording right away because you can hear the people in the background talking before the set starts. Also, throughout the recording you can hear people reacting to the solos spontaneously. The track begins with Mal Waldron starting things off with with a short intro into the song. Mal quickly establishes the grove and they begin. Dolphy solos first and jumps right in pushing tonality and squeezing in as many running eight notes as possible. When I think of Eric Dolphy’s style I think of the notes he lands on. How he just hangs on a note that creates dissonance and just sits there. Here however, he’s moving quiet fast and only stopping at brief moments.
Following Dolphy’s solo is Booker Little’s solo on trumpet. Little just has a great sound, great chops, the notes just ooze out of his trumpet so cleanly and precisely. The bebop verbiage is found all throughout his soloing. He plays with such speed and control it’s a joy to listen to. As his solo extends, he does push and play a bit more “out”, but at first it’s just a straight ahead jazz sound. Waldron solos next and uses chords to start his solo then goes into a melodic solo. He uses a lot of rhythmic ideas and takes his time to develop them and get the most he can out of every development. Following his solo they come back to the head and conclude the piece.
“Bee Vamp” is next and things quickly pick up. I love this tune, the melody, the hits, the harmony, this is a classic! Little solos first on this one and plays it in his signature way. Leaving space for the hits and shedding running eight notes throughout. Following his solo comes Dolphy on a sick bass clarinet. He utilizes the entire range of the bass clarinet and really adds a a nice and different element to the tune. Dolphy is also playing out so not only is it an uncommon instrument, but he pushes the right notes to give us an even more unique solo. Little adds hits in between for an extra layer. Waldron solos next and then we come back to the head and conclude the tune.
“The Prophet” is the last new tune on this recording. There is another alternate take on “Bee Vamp”, but again that track has already been played. It’s a good take as well and one I absolutely recommend listening to, but not one I will go in depth on. “The Prophet” is another gem in this short album. The song is a bit slower than the previous tune and they play a crazy long time. The duration of this tune is past twenty minutes! Still I find myself intrigued and captivated the entire time. Dolphy essentially plays everything he knows on this tune. I feel he gives you all he has and pushes his own musical and technical abilities. Order of solos goes Dolphy, Little, Waldon, and then Davis on Bass. With as long as this tune is everyone plays relatively long solos. Still this tune is a killer and just a great example of the kind of exploration and improvisation that can only happen on alive set.
For some this music may be too modern, too out there for them to enjoy, maybe too free jazzy. Now the free jazz argument is one that has been going on since it’s inception. I won’t really get into my thoughts about free jazz now, but I will say this. Give this album time, give it a chance. I’m sure if you give it a couple listens your ears will not only adjust, but appreciate and enjoy what this album is. For those who listen to all kinds of jazz this will not really be shocking tonally, but for those who are strictly mainstream there could be an adjustment. So keep an open mind and an open ear and you will love Dolphy and this classic performance at The Five Spot.