Eric Dolphy

The Quest

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The Quest, like 1960s Atlantic double live Mingus at Antibes is proof that putting stylistically similar saxophonists together in the studio is nowhere near as exciting as letting contrasting personalities battle it out. The soloing from Booker Ervin on tenor and Eric Dolphy on alto sax and bass clarinet (plus a rare and deliciously mellow B flat clarinet appearance on "Warm Canto") is scintillating. Recorded less than three weeks before Eric Dolphy teamed up with another late lamented Booker (Little, on trumpet) for the legendary Five Spot dates, The Quest is an outstandingly original (and unjustly neglected) sextet date under the leadership of pianist and composer Mal Waldron (famous for his later partnership with saxophonist Steve Lacy but best-known as Billie Holiday's last pianist). "Status Seeking" is a rip-roaring cop chase of a theme, locked tight into its revolving minor third riffs before Dolphy blows the whole structure open with one of his finest solos on record, after which Ervin and Waldron (have to) return to the Phrygian mode of the theme. "Duquility" and "Warp and Woof" both feature Ron Carter's lyrical cello playing (under-recorded and unfairly criticised as out of tune, but wonderfully compatible with Dolphy's tonal explorations on both his and Carter's earlier Prestige albums Where? and Out There). "Thirteen" is an intricate study in isorhythm worthy of Gunther Schuller's Third Stream concept, but once more the fire of Dolphy's playing (also evident on several Third Stream albums) and the passion of Ervin's transcend the academicism of the composition. "We Diddit" on the other hand, keeps thematics to a minimum to allow Dolphy and Ervin maximum runway space for takeoff. Pianist Waldron, while contributing some elegant Powell-like linear bop solos, is quite content to ride the hard-swinging rhythm section of Joe Benjamin and Charlie Persip and leave center stage to Carter, Ervin and Dolphy. The contrast between the horn players is most apparent on the 5/4 blues "Warp and Woof," where Ervin sticks to the preaching blues scale while Dolphy contributes angular snippets of birdsong worthy of Olivier Messiaen. There's no deadly pressure to annihilate each other though: collaboration is the name of the game, and the gracefully loping "Fire Waltz" dances the album to a close with perfection.

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