I’m all out of superlatives! Recorded for the Blue Note label in February of 1964, Out to Lunch! is viewed by many as Eric Dolphy‘s masterpiece, the “essential” recording. For Dolphy, an artist possessed of an incredible musical mind with a voracious appetite for new musical forms and expressions, Out To Lunch! proved to be the perfect platform.
Table of Contents
After several years of concurrently mingling his own work with integral side-jobs for such jazz luminaries as John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, and George Russell, Dolphy assembled his most cohesive group since the woefully short-lived Five Spot ensemble for the recording of Out to Lunch!
Preceded by formative work on Eric’s Iron Man album (recorded in the summer of ’63)—which included duets with bassist, Richard Davis and substituted the more typically used piano with vibraphone by Bobby Hutcherson-Out to Lunch! was approached as a predominantly “Free” (i.e.; the musicians not being bound to a particular harmonic structure or rhythmic signature) session. The group, which included longtime Dolphy associate Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, and Tony Williams (of Miles Davis/Lifetime fame) on drums, coalesced nicely around the adventurous multi-instrumentalist.
Out To Lunch! was Dolphy’s first and last recording for the Blue Note Records label as leader and to this day it is praised as one of the most important albums in Blue Note’s history. Out To Lunch! Is considered to be one of jazz‘s premier avant garde albums from the ‘60s.
As one of the most influential and infamous (due to the highly experimental nature of his music), Eric Dolphy is a giant in the history of jazz. Oddly his type of jazz draws from the well of classical music and wasn’t rooted in the blues. This meant Eric’s compositions and playing technique takes on a more angular approach. This resulted in critics calling him “too sophisticated” and not “jazzy enough.” Eric Dophy was creating a new space in jazz that combines abstracted melody and harmonies with catchy and steady rhythms (difficulty level: 10).
Even though Out To Lunch! generated a pile of controversy, it remains one of the most accessible, not to mention popular, and profoundly melodic albums to emerge out of the 60s avant-garde jazz scene. As an artist, the classic cover art alone is worth the price of this album.
This album is a bold challenge to our cultural idea of music. It can not be background music for your dinner party. The music is in direct opposition to casual “easy listening” and refuses to be anything but front and center. If you are not into free-form jazz, this may well not be the album for you. This album has the ability to be kind of scary and at the same time absolutely delightful. I remember the first time I played it my 15 year old son came out of his room and in a “Kramer” like fashion (see Seinfeld) exclaimed, “what the hell is going on out here!”
If you are a newbie to jazz, it’s difficult to predict how you will react to Out To Lunch! If you are an adventurous soul with an open mind and intrepid ears, I think you will love it. If you are searching for Kenny G, you will be confused, and may need counseling after.
In that first listen through of Out To Lunch!, at times it can seem like every instrument is going in a different direction. It was filled with squawks and squeaks, and horror of horrors I could not find four four. This is precisely why it is groundbreaking. Here are compositions and voicings that have not been heard before, and rarely heard since. So when you see the Out To Lunch! sign, enter respectfully and cautiously…. After that, let it’s wild nature free.
Out To Lunch! is most assuredly a ‘sine qua non’ album for all who are into free jazz or just love music that’s outside the box and perhaps a bit bizarre. This is revolutionary music. Though recorded in ‘64, it has the timeless feel as though it might have been produced yesterday. Each individual musician on this essential album was, or still is, a huge star in the world of jazz. There is no doubt that this breakout album is one of the all-time great classics of jazz. The Penguin Guide to Jazz awarded Out To Lunch! four stars and a crown! Albums are rated up to four stars and the author’s favorites were given a crown. The review of Eric dolphy’s album Out To Lunch! Won them all! This alone should make everyone pause and give a double take/listen to find out why this album has such praise from aficionados dedicated to the art of jazz.
The key to enjoying Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch! is simple, you must adjust your expectations going in. I literally owe a debt of gratitude to my wife who drew from my years of studying art to help me gain a framework for understanding. Here is what she said. “Listen to Out to Lunch! as though you were studying a Picasso. Picasso was a brilliant artist that was classically trained and could “paint normally” but it no longer held his interest. Picasso wanted to see the world in a different way and like the cubist and expressionist of the art world Eric Dolphy is doing the same thing in the musical world.” This is what Out to Lunch! is – don’t even try to think of this as “jazz,” just think of it as simply music. If you are able to rid yourself of preconceived notions as to what solos and compositions are supposed to sound like and just accept and enjoy the sound or “view that Eric Dophy is presenting to us, you will find a new world opening. If you can do all that, then you will understand what a true masterpiece “Out to Lunch” is. This album is the sublime testament to the singular greatness of Clarinetist Eric Dolphy. Though he passed away only weeks after this album was recorded, the world is blessed that he left Out to Lunch! Behind for those of us who remain.
I love Out To Lunch! Here is joy and wonder combined with innovation. With each time I listen to Out To Lunch! the more I am filled with deep appreciation for the genius and prophetic nature of Eric Dolphy. Perhaps the 9/4 feel with it’s 5/4 metre intro of “Hat and Beard” don’t get your toes tapping right away. It could be the bass line isn’t what you’ve become accustomed to in jazz. Possibly the horns screech and scratch a little much between their brief visits to something approaching conventional lyricism. “What the hell is going on out here!” you may ask. If you can listen to Out To Lunch! on playful terms, you will see this is not just jazz this is art.
Out to Lunch Personnel
- Eric Dolphy – bass clarinet (1 & 2), flute (3), alto saxophone (4 & 5)
- Tony Williams – drums
- Freddie Hubbard – trumpet
- Richard Davis – bass
- Bobby Hutcherson – vibraphone
Out To Lunch! showcases five of Eric’s own original songs with a band that includes famous jazz figures like Tony Williams (who soon after this album joined Miles Davis, and later his own group: Tony Williams Lifetime) and Freddie Hubbard (also part of notable jazz ensembles such as Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage-era band, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and the Coltrane group that made Ascension) In many ways on Out To Lunch! Bobby Hutcherson and Freddie Hubbard set the tone that seem to hold this album together. I think one of my favorite moments is when Eric Dolpjy, on flute, jams with Feddie Hubbard with bobby accenting infuse the piece with magic.
Out To Lunch! Songs
Hat and Beard 8:24
Eric Dolphy reinvents the bass clarinet on the Thelonious Monk tribute “Hat and Beard.” Jazz great Thelonious Monk had a signature appearance, hats, sunglasses and a beard (Hence the title, Hat and Beard). From the start, this composition begins with a kinda odd rhythm with short flurishes of vibraphone and the rolling bassline. The composition’s theme is melodic enough to get a sense of the swing and rhythm Eric is playing with yet in the expected standard Dolphy disorientation. Following the song’s theme comes the “traditional” solos. Dolphy’s solo breaks into improvised wide intervals, overflowing with with trills and rapid runs, laced with honking, squawking, bleating techniques and other animal-like effects. This gives the song, Hat and Beard, a humorous, light-hearted feel to it.
To the modern listener, Out To Lunch! is a perfect synthesis of Free Jazz/Avant-Garde and the “beyond Parkerisms” post-bop that Dolphy investigated on his many previous solo endeavors. The work effectively integrates Free playing with complex, angular rhythms, and memorably stated themes. “Hat and Beard”, the first composition, is an instant classic. The rhythmically intriguing tune brings to mind one of jazz‘s great iconoclasts, Thelonious Monk. The rhythm work of Tony Williams is powerful here (and a vast improvement when compared to J.C. Moses’s playing on Iron Man), as is Dolphy’s bass clarinet, bringing to mind the fury of his fierce alto solos on “The Prophet” from Eric’s stay at the Five Spot in 1961. The interplay of the players amidst the 9/4 to 5/4 themes, and the engaging ensemble improvisation throughout the piece, seem to fulfill the goals of every player attempting to creatively move past Bop-imposed restrictions and cliche. Take a load off and dig the crazy music man!
Something Tender, Something Sweet 6:02
Next up, the lyrical “Something Sweet and Something Tender” superficially recalls Mingus’s ballads, but could not be more aptly titled. In the lazy chorus you can hear the humor in Eric Dolphy’s music, a “poking fun” at monumental melodramas. This song is the sole ballad of Out To Lunch! It is primarily a duet between bassist Ron Davis and Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet and in a weird way is is beautiful, similar to Cotrane’s final recordings.
With its Bop-flavored theme, this song contains some of Eric’s most beautiful and remarkable playing on the flute. Like the first cut on the album, this song is a tribute to a fellow classical flautist Severino Gazzelloni. Starting with a harmonious catchy lilt, Gazzelloni spirals into a free zone that seems less random with the unrivaled skill of these master musicians feeling almost neatly arranged. This is an absolutely brilliant yet strange pseudo-classical experiment and has no comparative song. You realize nothing is even close to this unique composition as your soak in Eric Dolphy’s flute. It dispels all notions of the flute only creates easy-on-the-ears, pleasant sounds. It simultaneously dispels any idea of vibes being only delightful and charming. This may be an insane piece for most but that is exactly why I love it. Well that and the supper cool bass solo.
Out To Lunch 12:06
Group improvisation explodes throughout the particularly Free title cut, “Out to Lunch”. Bobby Hutcherson’s chiming, contrapuntal vibes on the opening theme give way to Free interplay from the entire group. Richard Davis, consistently in tune rhythmically with Dolphy on the alto sax. throughout the song, provides an exceptional solo here.
On my first listen to the title track of Out To Lunch!, I do not deny that I just didn’t get it. After playing it for the third time, I was mesmerized by Bobby Hutcherson on the vibes and all of a sudden I glimpsed the complete genius and logic behind it. On Out To Lunch!, Williams’ drumming is like a whole new language, perfectly emphasizing notes with intuition and subtly. You have to hear it to understand. In EricDolphy’s own words, “Tony doesn’t play time, he plays pulse.”
Straight Up and Down 8:19
“Straight Up and Down” closes the album with, avery swingin’ organic ensemble improvisation. Eric Dolphy leads us through a complex metrical labyrinth, with silvery melodies on his alto sax, making this unusually accessible. Freddie Hubbard, though never a truly Free player despite his appearances on Coltrane’s Ascension and Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, is comfortable on the entire session. Here his role is similar to Don Cherry’s with the Ornette Coleman group—only his tone on the trumpet often sounds richer than Cherry’s pocket cornet. Richard Davis on bass and Williams on the drums are super intense here. The end is the best part, the song’s initial theme reprises with a complimentary hum on the vibes. After all the tricky stuff, it feels a bit like the disorientation that comes from spinning around for a few minutes then suddenly stopping only to be hit by the drunken dizziness that follows. According to the the liner notes of the album it was intended to “evoke a drunken stagger.”
Album Review Conclusion
Eric Dolphy, always unbelievably productive, would go on to record (in the four short months before his death) with Mingus, Gil Evans, pianist, Andrew Hill (for Blue Note on Point Of Departure), and incredibly on Last Date, with his own pick-up group assembled during his stay in Europe. Dolphy says on the album’s liner notes, “I’m on my way to Europe to live for a while. Why? Because I can get more work there playing my own music, and because if you try to do anything different in this country, people put you down for it.” Eric, more than likely would have returned to the States, despite his statements to the contrary, to work with the only major 60’s jazz innovator left for him to collaborate with—Cecil Taylor (you can practically hear Eric tearing it up on Unit Structures). But speculation aside, enjoy this recording for the enduring masterpiece that it is.
Tragically Dolphy dies in Germany a few months after recording Out To Lunch! from an undiagnosed diabetes attack. (Click here for more details on Eric Dolphy’s life and death) This not only ranks as one of avant-garde’s greatest recordings ever, but also one of jazz‘s greatest albums period, and Out To Lunch! should be in your album collection. After listening to Out To Lunch! A few times you will have a huge head start in not just your own understanding, but enjoying the free jazz movement that blossomed after this album. Eric Dolphy was a true genius of jazz and this is his magnum opus! So long Eric.