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Selection 2: Status Seeking (Waldron)
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Eric Dolphy, alto sax, bass clarinet; Booker Ervin, tenor sax; Mal Waldron, piano, Ron Carter, cello; Joe Benjamin, bass; Charlie Persip, drums; recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 27, 1961.
1961: the world’s first electric toothbrush was launched by Squibb Co., Its success was held back some years awaiting the invention of electric teeth.
Relentlessly interesting music from Mal Waldron, who with Eric Dolphy, Booker Ervin, and Ron Carter, offers a satisfying complexity and variety which sits somewhere between hard bop and the avant-garde. Waldron – famous for his later partnership with saxophonist Steve Lacy – holds the melodic underpinning steadfast whilst the soloing of Booker Ervin and Eric Dolphy is never less than scintillating, while Carter’s pizzicato and bowing on cello adds an engaging third instrumental soloist to the ensemble.
AllMusic do a thoughtful analysis of the whole session, every track of which is a gem:
“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 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 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.
Some reviewers have been critical of Van Gelder’s engineering decisions regarding piano, commonly described as all but inaudible and too low a level in the mix. For the most part I didn’t hear any problems on the Xtra. Perhaps EMI engineers made different judgements in the remastering, or may be my expectations are different. I was not very familiar with Waldron’s work, a mistake on my part, to be made good in future.
No jazz collection would be complete without this unusual masterpiece. Not only are the individual soloists first-rate, the sheer variety of instruments – b flat clarinet anyone? – and tempos with great melodies make it one of a kind. Not music for ironing to, but music that demands you sit and listen, all the way through, then turn to play the other side. The ironing can wait.
Transatlantic/ XTRA 5006, 1966 UK first release of Prestige NJLP 8269; 143 gm vinyl, pressed by EMI Hayes for Transatlantic’s Xtra label
Transatlantic Records took over the UK licensing of Prestige Records after the demise of Esquire in 1964, hence a five-year gap until its release here. Esquire must never have got around to issuing The Quest, fortuitously depriving us of an alternative cover, probably a large green question mark on plain white background, or a Ralph Steadman pen drawing of someone peering through a magnifying glass. After a while you get to know how Esquire thought.
Transatlantic reused the great Don Schlitten photo from the New Jazz release. A lot better than the subsequent Fantasy hippy typography reissue cover, which hints at it being Dolphy’s album rather than Waldron’s.
Not especially rare or expensive, and not the New Jazz original, which would be more envied
Missing from my collection for too long, now made good. The valves however are feeling a little smug.
Dolphy AND Ervin? Double-cool.
Original rare LP, great music in fine condition, this was the British edition of the US album. Year of release 1966 Record Label Prestige
Sleeve: VG+ (a few marks – see photo – but no rips or splits, good for its age)
I love it when sellers show off their mahogany desktop, and photograph the whole disk instead of the more important label. So that’s what a record looks like. I never knew.
The Quest stands on its head the usual relationship between price and quality. The Xtra edition may not be the New Jazz original but its pretty damn close vintage vinyl, delightful pressing re-mastered by EMI and a fraction of the price. As a piece of music, it costs less than 50 pence a minute to listen to if you played it only once. After a few plays you are getting music this good for less than the cost of being held in a call-centre queue, waiting to speak to someone about your tax return. And it is certainly more enjoyable.
(Pictures updated to modern standard June 25, 2017)