Eric Dolphy – Out to Lunch!

Out to Lunch’s sleeve features a clock pressed behind a pane of glass, with seven arms that direct all in opposing bearings. Each of the arms are of different lenghts too. This surreal and enigmatic image confuses me to this day as to what it represents in the music. But I then realised that confusion and inexplicity plays a large part of this record. What I’m talking about can be heard in ‘Something Sweet, Something Tender’, which emerges with Dolphy’s erratic an deep reedwork with the clarinet which furtively meanders whimsically around Richard Davis’ fickle bass. Then Davis interludes before Dolphy capriciously directs the piece into a collaborative moody ballad of tender drumming and sweet horn structures, as the title entails.

In contrast to this, the succesive track ‘Gazzelloni’ delves into the traditional characteristics and conventions of a bop composition with Dolphy on flute which, although a great elusion to the later alto sax arrangements, does not operate smoothly to the avant-garde theme thus far. This is an example of the numerous instances of surprise or immediate change in Out to Lunch that makes it such a cherished and diverse work. The astonishing percussion is another strongpoint on Out to Lunch, particularly in ‘Hat and Beard’ and the title track. ‘Hat and Beard’, a track named after the greatly influential Thelonious Monk, breaks midway to reveal Tony William’s and Bobby Hutcherson’s brave percussive approach with multiple drum tempos and experimentations which continue to speed up and overthrow the listener before gradually returning to the original clarinet-driven piece.

Throughout the whole of the title track, ‘Out to Lunch’, the percussion is constantly adapting to Dolphy’s everchanging rhythmics which is remarkable and retains originality and a stimulated beat until approximately halfway where Dolphy recedes as the piece progresses primarily on bass movements, evasive piano jingles and the occassional slam from the snare drum. It’s at about the ten minute mark where Dolphy unexpected intercepts the bass ballad with saxophone improvisation. After the cymbal settles to mark the end of the title track, we move on to the final composition ‘Straight Up and Down’ which consists of drunkenly shifting and weaving saxophones, tense percussion which ricochets off Davis’ incessant and tireless bassline to provide a comforting conclusion to one of my most favourite jazz records.

In fact, jazz aside, Out to Lunch is one of my most favourite records in general. From the opening slice of snare to the dying chime of piano, Dolphy and the guys showcase their improvisational talent that has resulted in what is internationally acclaimed to be one of the most essential free jazz records out there, if not the most essential. The qualities that I’ve tried explaining above make Out to Lunch a compelling listen that would whet the apetite of a listener of any taste.

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