Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Eric Dolphy

  • The Berlin Concerts [Inner City, 1978] A
  • The Best of Eric Dolphy [Prestige, 2004] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Berlin Concerts [Inner City, 1978]
Two astonishing sides and two more than adequate ones, all recorded in 1961. "Hi-Fly" is a feature for flute, an instrument not even Dolphy can induce me to get passionate about, and "When Lights Are Low" is playful to the point of waggishness. But the 19-minute version of Tadd Dameron's "Hot House," with Dolphy on alto and Benny Bailey on trumpet, is a fluent, unselfconscious synthesis of bebop and "free jazz" that sounds entirely up-to-the-minute in 1979. And the bravura exchanges on "I'll Remember April" will make your favorite guitar hero seem a slowhand indeed. A

The Best of Eric Dolphy [Prestige, 2004]
Dolphy shared John Coltrane's taste for the ecstatic without ever abandoning bebop-style, European-harmony-based cogitation. Not a drinker or a druggie, he died at 36 of insulin shock after a diabetes attack. His tenure at Prestige lasted from April 1960 to September 1961 and is all available in one huge box. Nine CDs' worth of quality music in 17 months, plus Ornette's Free Jazz, Coltrane's Live at the Village Vanguard, and other major guest shots. A year later, he left his mark on me at the Village Gate, Labor Day '62 I think it was, when he encored with Coltrane--on alto? bass clarinet? surely not flute--and blew my head off. In a sense I've been trying to return to that night ever since, but though I've gotten close a few times, it was never via Dolphy (in fact, never via jazz). I dug the box, hell yeah. But there's more use value in the way his superb bands, striking heads, and unfettered improvisations fill this single disc--even his flute. A