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An innovator among innovators

The Complete Prestige Recordings
The Complete Prestige Recordings
By Eric Dolpy

Prestige / Fantasy Records: 1995

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This review first appeared in the December 22, 1995 issue of the North County Times.

Three and a half decades after the last of his Prestige sides was laid down, 30 years after he died of a diabetic coma at age 36, Eric Dolphy's music remains as challenging and fresh as anything that's been recorded since.

This boxed set captures Dolphy's work as he was just coming into his own, as well during his peak of creativity. The nine discs in this set take in 18 LPs Dolphy recorded for Prestige from 1960-64, both as leader and sideman to artists such as Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Ron Carter and Mal Waldron.

It was an exciting time in jazz, and one can hear the ideas flowing here as all the musicians involved try to push each other, attempting to find out where the music could – would – go.

Dolphy's enduring fame is due not only to the caliber of his playing, but also for his choice of instruments. Not many reed players had his ability to play equally well on alto sax, flute and bass clarinet.

Still, it is the quality of his playing that makes this set so outstanding. Dolphy was an innovator par excellence in an age of innovators. In the early 1960s, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane were already making their marks on the music, and Ornette Coleman was poised to explode with his free jazz.

Among all of these giants, Dolphy more than held his own as both player and leader.