ericdolphy

Woody Shaw/Anthony Braxton ‘The Iron Men’

This love letter to the work of inside/outside pioneers Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, Jackie McLean, Bobby Hutcherson, and all the other “iron men” (as Shaw calls them) is a BURNER. Shaw is joined by Anthony Braxton, who pulls triple duty on alto & soprano sax, as well as clarinet. Shaw is a triple threat as well on trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn. Arthur Blythe adds alto sax on two tracks as well. They’ve got a knockout rhythm section that’s both fluid and powerful, with Muhal Richard Abrams (piano), Cecil McBee (bass), and drum duties split between Joe Chambers and Victor Lewis. Two sessions were recorded for Muse that comprise this record, one recorded on this day, 6 April, and another a week later on 13 April back in 1977. The material includes homages to Shaw’s earlier collaborations with Eric Dolphy, including the Dolphy original “Iron Man,” as well as Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” which Shaw had performed with Dolphy in the 60s. There’s a rousing, knotty romp through Andrew Hill’s “Symmetry,” which is my second-favorite track on the record, with McBee and Abrams engaging in a game of musical capture-the-flag that’s simply awe-inspiring. Top-of-the-heap, however, is Shaw’s second run at his own “Song of Songs,” originally on the LP of the same name recorded for Contemporary in 1972. The ’72 version sets a spiritual mood. This version is fiercer, tighter, and leaves no ass unkicked. There’s marvelous interplay, terrific solos, and overall it’s a team effort that’s bound to please. Throughout the record, Shaw paints with his entire palette, showcasing both dazzling technique, and a buttery, smooth, tone. As you’d expect with Anthony Braxton on board, some of the music has sharp elbows, but don’t let that intimidate you—this is wonderful music and an under-appreciated Shaw session. Originally released on Muse (MR 5160) in 1981, it’s part of Mosaic’s Complete Muse Recordings of Woody Shaw, which boasts significantly improved sound over the LP

Eric Dolphy Quintet At The Five Spot

The roar of this quintet may not be for everyone, though I do recommend that everyone hear it. I was initially intimidated by ‘At the Five Spot’, concerned it would be a challenging listen. My concerns quickly evaporated. Yes, there are moments that go out to lunch as these are all players who are comfortable (and some forged a reputation upon) playing “outside”. Yet while this live session—the final and sole night to be recorded of their two week residency at the Five Spot—is often advanced, it’s quite accessible. That said, the heart wants what the heart wants, and the scope and velocity at which ideas spring from these men occasionally push past traditional notions of harmony, time and structure. Never for long, and not in a way that’s abrasive. More like watching five magicians showing sleight-of-hand card tricks when you thought you’d seen them all—most are impressive, many of them delightful, and some downright jaw-dropping. So I like this record more with each play—always a good sign. Booker Little (trumpet) would be dead at age 23 three months after this was recorded—a tragic end to an extraordinary player. Drummer Ed Blackwell is crisp, sure-footed (handed?) and nimble—never overplaying, never underplaying. Pianist Mal Waldron and bassist Richard Davis are heroes of the night. On first listen they don’t seem to be front and center, but pay attention…they’re actually the heart and soul of everything. It’s with these incredible musicians that Dolphy’s inner Khaleesi utters “Dracarys!”, and whether he’s on alto sax or bass clarinet, the fiery torrents of creativity that emerge are tales of the unexpected—at times curious, at others unsettling, occasionally aggressive, and sometimes otherworldly. When he gets on a roll and starts coloring outside the lines, it feels like a journey skywards and inwards at the same time. Not for the timid, but worth it for those with an advanced sense of adventure